With the end of season run-in getting closer there is a lot at stake in each game at both ends of the table.
Moving into the decisive point of the season, there’s still much to play for in the I-League. While evident title favourites Chennai City are marching towards the crown, stiff competition from those behind is keeping them on their toes. The resurgence of Mohun Bagan and consistency from the likes of Churchill Brothers and East Bengal is keeping things very competitive behind the league leaders.
While all eyes were on the big guns in the past few weeks, some surprising performances came from the younger bunch. A good mix of experienced and youthful domestic performers shone through in certain fixtures recently, putting in admirable acts on the pitch. So, here we’ll take you through the I-League Team of Phase 7.
Goalkeeper: Shilton Paul (Mohun Bagan)
Having found new life under coach Khalid Jamil, Shilton Paul showed glimpses of his old self in recent home matches against Minerva Punjab and NEROCA FC. He was brilliant in goal against both, making crucial saves to keep his side in a comfortable position.
However, he was especially commendable against NEROCA, making a few sensational diving stops to keep them from taking the lead. Paul earned the Hero of the Match award for his heroics and grabbed two clean-sheets in his first games under the new head coach.
Right-Back: Dhamaraj Ravanan (Real Kashmir)
Dharmaraj Ravanan’s superior experience has shown so far for Real Kashmir this season, as he’s been a vital cog in their impenetrable defence. The former Chennai City man put in a string of impressive performances in the northeast, helping the Snow Leopards keep both Aizawl and Shillong Lajong contained.
He impressed with his tackling and man-marking to stop both the teams from penetrating through his wing. Ravanan enabled the Snow Leopards to keep successive clean-sheets in away games and keep up at the top of the table.
I-League Team of Phase 7
Centre-Back: Lalchhawnkima (Mohun Bagan)
Coming back from a nasty head injury, Lalchhawkima put on a brave performance against NEROCA to symbolize how defensively aware The Mariners are under Jamil. Kim Kima did really well to keep the dangerous Felix Chidi at bay and made some crucial challenges to keep the Orange Army away from his team’s goal.
Be it strong tackles, important interceptions or distributing the ball into attack, Kima looked unbreakable against NEROCA and helped The Mariners record an important win.
Centre-Back: Anwar Ali (Indian Arrows)
Indian Arrows have displayed some surprising growth in maturity in recent games and prominent defender Anwar Ali has embodied that change. Ali put in some commendable shifts in defence in the last few games, helping pile the misery on Shillong Lajong.
He kept The Reds’ unpredictable attack at bay, making important challenges and marking them out into earning a clean-sheet. Ali was also pretty good against East Bengal, making things difficult for Jobby Justin and Co., restricting them to only a narrow victory.
Left-Back: Abhishek Ambekar (Mohun Bagan)
Being reunited with his old manager, Abhishek Ambekar’s form has also picked up at Bagan. He produced some stellar performances in their recent home games, keeping out his former employers Minerva Punjab admirably.
He later produced an even better performance against NEROCA, keeping Malemnganba Meitei isolated from proceedings and not allowing many moves to be created through his wing. Playing at both right-back and left-back, Ambekar proved his versatility and why he’ll be a vital part in Jamil’s system.
Right-Wing: Alexander Romario Jesuraj (Chennai City FC)
Alexander Romario Jesuraj has been pegging for goals this season and scored arguably the biggest one of his career against East Bengal. The winger looked as dangerous as ever against the Red and Gold Brigade and won the game for Chennai City dramatically.
He went past Manoj Mohammed, before scoring impressively to set the stadium ablaze. Jesuraj continued his brilliant work against Aizawl, providing two assists in the 4-3 thriller and proved why he’s such an important cog in Chennai’s success.
Central Midfield: Richard Costa (Churchill Brothers)
Churchill Brothers regained their dominant form recently and at the heart of their victory over Gokulam Kerala was Richard Costa. The experienced midfielder put in a commendable performance, distributing the ball valiantly and instigating many attacking moves.
He even assisted Dawda Ceesay’s equalizer, dribbling into attack before finding the winger cleverly. Costa’s creativity and energy allowed The Red Machines to get back to winning the game after a poor start.
Central Midfield: Khalid Qayoom (Real Kashmir)
Khalid Qayoom’s been a discreet destroyer in Real Kashmir’s midfield, enabling the rest of the midfielders freedom due to his stellar work. He continued his impressive form for the Snow Leopards, helping them dominate the games in the northeast.
Not only is Qayoom a commendable distributor of the ball, his interception skills and ability to break-up attacks was on show against Aizawl and Lajong. He helped Bazie Armand and Co. venture forward, knowing his trustworthy presence would be there to stop any opposition counter-attacks.
Left-Wing: Lalengmawia (Indian Arrows)
Indian Arrows produced their best performance of the season in the 3-0 thrashing of Lajong and Lalengmawia made quite an impact in it. The skilful winger dazzled everyone with his trickery and pace. He received the ball in a promising area and thundered it into the top corner to double his side’s lead.
Lalengmawia kept tormenting Shillong’s defence with his movement and made sure the Arrows maintained their momentum. While he was pretty good against East Bengal, threatening at times, but couldn’t produce the same result.
Striker: Lalkhawpuimawia (Aizawl FC)
Lalkhawpuimawia’s been Aizawl’s shining light in a rather gloomy season, having scored some good goals. He seems to have regained confidence under new coach Stanley Rozario and despite not starting in either of his two games, he made an impact against Chennai.
Brought on when the match was already lost, Mapuia showed impressive determination to prove his worth. He scored a superb goal, going past a few players before pile driving the ball into the net to prove he deserves to start consistently for Aizawl.
Striker: Vikram Pratap Singh (Indian Arrows)
Vikram Pratap Singh’s making quite an impact in his first season in the I-League and proved why his talent is regarded so highly against Lajong. The hard-working striker produced a wonderful performance, flooring Shillong with his wit and determination.
Singh scored a looping header which floated into the goal to give Arrows to lead and helped double it as well. He went past a few players before playing a clever ball for Lalengmawia to score the second. The striker was extremely influential in the crushing victory, proving how much he’s grown under Floyd Pinto’s system.