With the league well into its home stretch teams are jostling for positions at both ends of the table.
This phase of matches in the I-League witnessed several dramatic moments. Shillong Lajong captured their first win in thirteen matches, while low-lying Aizawl FC too managed to get three points and a draw in their two matches. Churchill Brothers and Real Kashmir fought hard to stay within striking distance of Chennai City in top spot.
The matches also witnessed several exceptional performances by experienced professionals and youngsters alike. These performances have acted as a catalyst for their respective teams to get the right results.
Goalkeeper – Phurba Lachenpa (Shillong Lajong)
It was no surprise to see Neithovilie Chalieu, dropped for the second consecutive match. Despite losing against Real Kashmir, Phurba Lachenpa had put in an amazing performance to keep his starting spot. He strengthened his case to be a regular starter with a Hero of the Match performance against defending champions Minerva Punjab.
With ample help from the defence, Lachenpa thwarted the Minerva attack constantly, to lead Shillong Lajong to their first clean-sheet of the season. Prabhjot Singh and Arshdeep Singh were kept quiet by the 20-year-old as Shillong held on to their first victory in the league, since getting all three points in the first match of the season against Aizawl. For Alison Kharsyntiew’s side to avoid relegation, they would need similar performances from Lachenpa in the upcoming games.
Right-Back – Dharmaraj Ravanan (Real Kashmir)
Kashmir’s grit and resilience this season have surprised every football fan across the nation. The side have shown an exceptional capability to eke out victories with amazing defensive performances and one of the key figures in that stellar defence is Dharmaraj Ravanan. The right-back had terrorised Chennai City in the match in Chennai and managed to repeat a similar performance in the reverse fixture. the former Chennai City defender was adept at stopping attacks through his flank and successfully man-marked opponents when necessary.
In the game against Churchill, Ravanan subdued the threat of the ever-dangerous Willis Plaza for the majority of the game. Despite the Trinidadian striker scoring the equaliser, Dharmaraj put in a worthy performance, limiting the attacker’s influence for a major part of the game. The experience the full-back brings to the side has been key for David Robertson and his performances are one major reason as to why Real Kashmir are in the title race.
I-League Team of Phase 8
Centre-Back – Rowilson Rodrigues (Churchill Brothers)
The 31-year-old centre-back Rowilson Rodrigues has cemented his starting place in the Churchill Brothers lineup with brilliant displays of physical prowess and tight defending. The Goa-born player was a key figure in all of the Red Machines” matches during this phase, maintaining a tight ship with either Hussein Eldor or Nenad Novakovic.
The defenders’ presence also gives Petre Gigiu the freedom to play one extra foreigner upfront and offers Churchill more of an offensive edge. His performances have been remarkable and prompted the Romanian coach to remove one foreign centre-back from the starting lineup to include him.
Centre-Back – Govin Singh (Aizawl FC)
During this phase of matches in the I-League, Aizawl managed two clean-sheets and one major reason for that was Govin Singh’s performance in defence. The Manipuri player was a brick wall against both NEROCA FC and Minerva Punjab, never letting either team’s attack have a sniff at goal.
The 31-year-old has transformed himself into an essential part of the Aizawl back four and his continued performances in the backline could lead them to a second half revival this season.
Left Back – Boris Thangjam (Indian Arrows)
It is not always, that an 18-year-old manages to delight the crowd, with his exceptional footballing ability. The young Indian Arrows left-back Boris put in a memorable performance against NEROCA to give his side a fighting chance in the match. Despite losing the match, his involvement in the game was very positive. The youngster shut his flank down defensively, but also helped his team offensively. He opened the scoring in the game, showcasing an exemplary ‘never-say-die’ attitude to find the net through a tight opposition back four.
He has been improving at a regular rate and despite not being very fast, has been a threat on both sides of the pitch for the Arrows. His unpredictable movement and determination caused several problems for the Orange Brigade during the match.
Right Midfield- Mahesh Singh (Shillong Lajong)
Despite only playing half the match, Naorem Mahesh Singh influenced the proceedings to a great extent. The winger came on for Shillong’s striker Samuel in the 55th minute and proceeded to terrorize the Minerva defence. There was a visible positive change in the Lajong system after his introduction and the youngster combined with his fellow defenders to create many chances. He and Kynsailang Khongsit combined exceptionally well to create opportunities.
Mahesh’s hard work paid off when he was in the right place to slot in a rebound after Minerva custodian Nidhin Lal diverted a shot into his path.
Central Midfield- Richard Costa (Churchill Brothers)
Richard Costa has been an absolute midfield general for the Red Machines this season. The former East Bengal player has been a solid defensive anchor for Gigiu’s side and his unwavering presence has allowed the likes of Dawda Ceesay and Willis Plaza to focus on attack. His positioning and feel of the game have been vital and his distribution has helped create many chances.
Costa has helped Churchill stay in the title race and his performances will be very important if the Red Machines are to bring the crown back to Goa.
Central Midfield- Farhan Ganie (Real Kashmir)
Against Churchill Brothers, Farhan Ganie displayed his true potential. The midfielder was everywhere, creating chances easily and disrupting opposition movements with ease. He was constantly finding teammates in space and he would have gotten a couple of assists, if it weren’t for the wastefulness of the Real Kashmir frontline. However, the midfielder grabbed a deserved goal when his long-range effort found the net for the opener.
Even against Chennai City, the midfielder kept Akbar Nawaz’s devastating Spanish frontline quiet. He has been a real asset for David Robertson and he will be looking to do the same in the coming matches to help Real Kashmir push for the title.
Left Midfield -Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
When East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan with a stellar performance, two Indians stood out. One of them was Lalrindika Ralte. The 26-year-old’s effort and hard work helped the Red and Gold Brigade to maintain a steady ship, despite the constant attacking threat from Khalid Jamil’s side.
The skipper for the day was constantly alert and on the move, disrupting opposition attacks while aiding the offensive movement of his side. Any questions regarding Ralte’s set-piece prowess were silenced, when he curled in a peach of a delivery for Jobby Justin to slot into the Mohun Bagan net. He grabbed a deserving assist for his performance throughout the 90 minutes.
Striker- Jobby Justin (East Bengal)
The Kolkata derbies this season have been defined by one man – Jobby Justin. The East Bengal forward had endeared himself to the Red and Gold faithful with a goal in the first derby of the season. He followed that with an exceptional showing in the second game against the Mariners. Mohun Bagan’s defenders, especially Kingsley Obumneme, were on their toes due to the 25-year-old’s pace and trickery.
Justin also assisted Jamie Santos’ opener, before finding the net himself in the second half. The first goal was a testament to his efforts. he managed to outwit Kingsley on the ball, drawing the Mohun Bagan defence to him before calmly squaring it for Santos. He has time and again, proven his worth to the Red and Gold Brigade.
Striker – Lalrinchhana (Aizawl FC)
The striker had come into the match against defending champions Minerva Punjab with something to prove. Lalrinchhana was left out of the squad for the goalless draw against NEROCA, but was recalled for the game in Punjab. He delivered for Stanley Rosario in style. The youngster was a constant thorn, causing incessant problems for the Minerva Punjab defence. The 23-year-old was involved in all the major attacking moves from Aizawl.
He finally got the goal his performance deserved, when he headed in a peach of a cross from Isak. The goal was enough for the visitors to secure a hard-fought victory over The Warriors. If his performances continues in the same vein, Aizawl could be in for a resurgence in the second half of the season.