The Indian Super League could have very well seen its first play-off qualifier and the first team to be mathematically eliminated this season.
With the magic mark set to be 30 points, Bengaluru bounced back from a loss at the hands of Mumbai City to win their ninth game and get to that mark with five games remaining. At the other end of the table, Chennaiyin’s 11th loss of the season meant that they remained rock bottom with five points.
The Marina Machans are 18 points behind fourth-placed NorthEast and are cannot catch them with four games to play. Jamshedpur FC’s top-four bid received a jolt while ATK’s win over the former gave them a lifeline in the race.
Goa needed this victory to arrest their mini-slide. They were the week’s big winners, coming out triumphs against table toppers Mumbai City.
Sergio Lobera made tweaks to his starting line-up, going with Ahmed Jahouh in the middle. The Moroccan makes Goa tick, acting as an all-essential link between attack and defence. Brandon Fernandes started on the left of the attack, as Edu Bedia started just behind Coro.
The improvements for the Gaurs, however, have come in another department. After eight games in which they recorded a single clean sheet, Goa now have three in five matches. Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall started in the middle of defence, as Mandar Rao Dessai and Seriton Fernandes operated as full-backs.
Pena and Fall made a total of 21 clearances as Mumbai City looked blunt without top-scorer Modou Sougou. Their lack of back-up options were cruelly exposed as Matias Mirabaje failed to have any impact and Arnold Issoko, playing up front, could not produce the goods without partner-in-crime Sougou.
Mumbai should still make the play-offs, only three points away from the 30-point mark with four games to play but other Bengaluru and NorthEast will watch this game and look for chinks in the armour of a team which went nine games unbeaten.
The visiting side and Lobera will be relieved but their job is far from done. Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin will present good opportunities for them to pick up maximum points and seal progression. With Bengaluru the second-last game, they will not want to wait until the away trip to the Sree Kanteerava to take a place in the next round. As news that the ISL final may be held in Goa this time around becomes louder, the incentive only grows stronger.
Goa’s next test will be against a resurgent Delhi Dynamos on Monday, with the latter taking on NorthEast United on Thursday. While Josep Gombau’s team can play party-spoilers, Eelco Schattorie will wonder how his side came away with nothing from the Kanteerava.
Having potentially put in performances to pick up six points against the Blues over the two legs, NorthEast have come away with a solitary point. Chencho Gyeltshen was again NorthEast’s tormentor but Gurpreet Sandhu continued his jekyll-and-hyde season with a wonderful performance against the Highlanders.
Schattorie’s side had 11 shots on target to Bengaluru’s one, but the Indian number one made 10 saves to thwart Bartholomew Ogbeche and co. After Delhi, they face Mumbai City and Kerala Blasters away. With Pune City to be played in Guwahati, it is not the easiest of run-ins.
For Bengaluru, they needed to issue a strong response after having their unbeaten streak snapped. This wasn’t the roaring come-back that Carles Cuadrat would have hoped for but he and BFC needed the three points.
In the absence of Miku, their air of invincibility has disappeared but they continue to pick up points despite not being at their best, an important quality for potential champions to possess. The trio of NorthEast, Mumbai City and Goa will not be overwhelmed at the prospect of facing BFC over a two-legged semi-final.
Bengaluru face Kerala Blasters next, a team in free-fall and now second last. After an encouraging performance in Nelo Vingada’s first match, the Blasters, who had Lalruatthara sent off, were limp in a 2-0 defeat to Delhi. With questions surrounding a change in top management, the Blasters players appear to be hoping for the season to end.