Pune City crashed to their third straight defeat in the Indian Super League on Sunday at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa. The home team, the free scorers that they are slowly becoming renowned for, did not disappoint and pumped four past Pune goalkeeper Vishal Kaith.
The Stallions from Maharashtra are currently a club in shambles, with the results on the pitch being a by-product of decisions taken off it. Failure to land their first-choice manager saw them opt for former Delhi man Miguel Angel Portugal.
As the Spaniard took a dig at his former employers in a public press conference, little did he know that his time would be cut short after just three games this time around. Pradyum Reddy took interim charge of a side desperately in need of a change in fortunes.
Red mist for Carlos and Coro
Make no mistake about it, this match turned ugly towards the end. The only person who kept his calm and came away with any credibility from it is the referee Pranjal Banerjee.
Diego Carlos lost the plot completely after giving away the ball and his petulant knee-hack aimed at Goa’s right-back Seriton Fernandes was an act that deserves strict action from the league’s disciplinary committee.
The intent was fully there, it was reckless and it could have resulted in a grave injury on another occasion. TP Rehenesh’s swing at Gerson Vieira earned him a three-match ban. Carlos’s actions were unsavoury and uncalled for on a football pitch.
Coro’s studs-up challenge towards the end was surprising. Goa were leading 4-2, the Spanish striker had bagged two goals for himself but dived in wildly on Marko Stankovic. The Gaurs will cope, having Miguel Palanca in reserve but Sergio Lobera will be furious with last season’s top scorer in the ISL.
FC Goa: Goals, yes, but defence?
Lobera’s track record in playing attacking football is unquestionable. In the 24 ISL matches that he has overseen since the start of last season, the Gaurs have scored 57 goals in that period, comfortably the highest by any team during this period.
The flip-side? They have conceded 37 goals, at a rate of more than a goal and a half per game. Goa finished last season as the top scorers in the league with 42 but they also ended with the fourth-worst defensive record – 28 goals conceded. They’ve managed three clean sheets in all of Lobera’s ISL reign.
This season, Chinglensana Singh and Mourtada Fall represent a new pairing at the heart of defence, Sana only having started four games last season. Yet, Lobera’s intent of playing the ball out of the back presents a different kind of pressure as witnessed in Pune’s penalty.
Mohammad Nawaz played a sloppy pass to Sana and the ex-Shillong Lajong man was promptly robbed by Emiliano Alfaro, who was subsequently brought down in the box by the centre-back.
Nawaz was also at fault for Pune’s second goal, beaten by Alfaro at his near post. He made up for it with his penalty save but Reddy’s team did a lot to expose the chinks in this Goan defence.
The old-world adage of “they score two, we score three” has proved to be a happy one for this Goan side and Lobera will hope that his attack never has an off-day. Should the front-line go missing, this team will pray for some glue to hold that backline together.
Pune show fight
The two teams were coming into the match with contrasting approaches. Goa were high off their 5-0 walloping of Mumbai City while Pune were going through the motions. Reddy made five changes, as Matt Mills was the only survivor of the back four that lost 3-0 to Bengaluru.
Five goals in 22 first-half minutes were the result of Pune not entirely fixing their leaks but opting to take the game to Goa. Post-match, Reddy would admit that Pune in their present shape could not have pressed for 90 minutes.
The decision was nonetheless a brave one and, against a Goan side in this vein of form and an attacking frame of mind, a drop deep-approach would possibly have resulted in the home side ripping them apart.
It should also be noted that with the match delicately poised at 4-2, Alfaro’s penalty miss was huge in the context of the match. As Coro’s legs faded, the second half was a tighter affair at both ends. A third goal might have given Pune the license to romp forward and equalise but it was not to be.
Re-organisation at the first go post a coach’s sacking was always going to be tough, and so was keeping pace with Goa for the entire 90 minutes. But Alfaro and Marcelinho showed that Pune are going to be competitive given the pedigree of the players that they possess.