A second-half comeback helped Sreenidi avoid a huge upset against bottom side Sudeva Delhi in the I-League 2022-23.

Sreenidi Deccan had to dig deep to earn full points with a 3-1 win against wooden-spooners Sudeva Delhi FC here at the Deccan Arena on Sunday. Carlos Vaz Pinto’s men thus opened up a three-point gap at the top of the Hero I-League with 40 points from 18 matches, but were trailing 0-1 for 70 minutes. It is a fact that not only proves what an organised side the Deccan Warriors are, but also how well Sankarlal Chakraborty’s unfancied team played.

In the end, Sreenidi’s bench strength shone through. Louis Ogana came in to replace fellow Nigerian Rilwan Hassan in the 64th minute and finished as the Hero of the Match. His first goal in the 81st minute gave the hosts the lead and the second in the 89th, sealed the I-League match for them.

Brave Sudeva go down fighting

It was heartbreaking for the boys from Delhi because they were the better team in the opening half. The best goal was also scored by their electrifying young forward Lalbiakliana. It was the 29th minute of the match and a feat in itself that Sudeva had not conceded yet. The diminutive forward cut in from the right, went past Faysal Shayesteh and foxed the towering Ghanaian defender Awal Mohammed to find space to shoot. He was still surrounded by four Sreenidi players when he unleashed the booming left-footer. Custodian CK Ubaid was at full stretch but could not stop the scorcher that stunned everyone.

Incredible as it may sound, the match could have seen more than a couple of goals in the first half itself but for the crossbar, and the brilliance of Ubaid and his counterpart Priyant Singh. The Sudeva goalkeeper made his first save in the third minute itself. Still Hassan could have put Sreenidi in the lead in the next minute had his right-footer from edge of the box not hit the woodwork.

Goalkeeping heroics

Similarly, Ubaid’s timing in leaving the goalline saved Sreenidi more than once. The first occasion came in the 21st minute when Alexis Gomez lobbed one from the middle of the pitch to Seilenthang Lotjem just outside the hosts’ box. Lotjem had to hurry for the volley as Ubaid was coming for the ball. As a result, he just missed the target.

Six minutes later, Lotjem sent a diagonal cross to Biaktea and Ubaid came out again to deflect his shot away from the goal with the left foot. Shavkati Khotam and Lungkim Seigoulun Khongsai’s long rangers from a long way out could have also resulted in goals during stoppage time had Ubaid not made diving saves. That could have made Sreenidi’s I-League comeback in the second half doubly difficult.

What made a big difference in the second half was the success of David Castaneda to break free from his marker Sujit Sadhu. The Colombian had failed to do that in the first half but in the 56th minute, he almost scored off Lalromawia’s corner, heading just wide. After Ramhlunchhunga and Asheer Akhtar failed to keep their headers on target, Castaneda did in the 68th minute but the goal was disallowed for offside.

Chances wasted for Sudeva

Sudeva came close to making it 2-0 a couple of minutes later. Had Khotam or Lotjem been able to convert that Gomez cutback, Castaneda’s frustration would have magnified. But lady luck smiled on him in the 71st minute. Asraf Ali Mondal crossed from the left wing to the far post and Castaneda lost his marker once again to head it in.

The equalizer changed the game. Ogana came up with a spectacular bicycle kick in the very next minute which Priyant saved from point blank. He was kept busy with corners from both flanks for the next few minutes.

The pressure finally broke Sudeva in the 81st minute. Romawia received Mayakkannan’s cross from the left in front of the goal, went away to the left taking a defender with him, turned and passed to Ogana who was in a more central position. He made no mistake in making it 2-1.

The insurance goal was more of an individual effort. Ogana got a lob just outside the box unmarked, and half-volleyed to the far post well beyond the reach of Priyant.

Resurgent Gokulam grind to beat Churchill

Gokulam Kerala moved back to third position on the Hero I-League points table with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Churchill Brothers at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco da Gama on Sunday, February 19, 2023.

The Malabarians rode on Farshad Noor’s first-half goal before displaying some resilient defending after the break to pick up their second consecutive I-League win on the road.

The game began at an even pace and it was Churchill Brothers who had the edge in terms of ball possession. However, the visitors looked sharper going forward. In the ninth minute, a weak clearance by the Churchill defence fell for Sergio Mendigutxia on the edge of the penalty area. The Spanish striker struck the ball sweetly but was denied by Albino Gomes.

However, the Churchill custodian was beaten 12 minutes later. A mispass by Kingslee Fernandes allowed Gokulam to win possession in the attacking third. PN Noufal fed the ball to Farshad Noor, who had made a run into the 18-yard area. The Afghan pulled the trigger just in time to avoid Ponif Vaz’s sliding challenge and nestled the ball into the back of the net.

End-to-end encounter

Soon after, Martin Chaves had a chance to pull the hosts level. Sharif Mukhammad sent a low cross for the Uruguayan into the six-yard area, but Gokulam captain Aminou Bouba was present to make a vital last-minute interception to keep the ball away from Chaves.

Chaves then tried to be the provider in the first-half add-on time, picking out Abdoulaye Sane inside the box. The Senegalese turned goalside and took the shot but was denied by the Gokulam goalkeeper Shibinraj Kunniyil. Substitute Alocious was present to pounce on the rebound, but he too was denied by a spectacular sliding challenge from Mohammed Jasim.

Alocious had another chance early in the second half but his strike following a free-kick taken by Chaves lacked power and was comfortably collected by Kunniyil. Gokulam Kerala gave away a series of cheap fouls just outside the penalty area, but Churchill Brothers were unable to take advantage. Mukhammad hit the crossbar before Momo Cisse and Chaves skied their efforts.
At the other end, the Malabarians almost doubled their lead on the counter. Sreekuttan VS received the ball on the left wing and made a run into the hosts’ penalty area before cutting back for Noor, but the Afghan was denied a brace by a reflex save from the Churchill goalkeeper Gomes.

As the hosts pressed high up the pitch, the Gokulam backline defended desperately. It turned into an end-to-end contest towards the end of regulation time. In the 87th minute, substitute Eldar Moldozhunusov received the ball on the left wing and took a stinging shot at goal, but it was saved by Gomes at the expense of a corner. From the corner, Gomes then saved a header from Bouba before Churchill launched a counterattack. Sane made his way inside the box but tried to dribble his way out of too many green shirts and lost the ball in the process.

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