The 16th game-week of the Indian Super League witnessed the consolidation of the top four spots, as it seems likely that NorthEast and Mumbai City will qualify for the play-offs. Bengaluru and Goa have already cemented their spots in the final four.
This was a bad week for those chasing the semi-finals outside the top four, Jamshedpur and ATK’s hopes squashed by Goa and Pune City. Both have seen enough investment to land them a place in the top four, but are denied at the moment by team efforts such as NorthEast United’s.
Eelco Schattorie will be pleased with his side’s win over Mumbai City which saw them leapfrog the Islanders into the top four. Bengaluru’s march to the play-offs hit yet another snag when they lost 2-3 to the Delhi Dynamos.
Leaks in Bengaluru’s backline
They started as blips, then were termed exceptions but are now on the verge of being termed the ‘norm’. Daniel Lalhlimpuia bagged a brace against his old club, but he’ll have Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to thank for the goals. Sandhu has made the most saves of all keepers in the league, 50, but the errors, glaring in nature, have come thick and fast.
This season, the goal-keeper and the India number one has made more howlers than his club would have liked. Altyn Asyr, Jordan, ATK, Chennaiyin, Delhi Dynamos have been beneficiaries of Gurpreet’s largesse since the start of the second half of Bengaluru’s AFC Cup campaign.
Against Delhi, his spill for Lalhlimpuia’s first goal was similar to the one he had conceded against Chennaiyin the previous week; a shot hit straight at him getting into the net for the home side’s equaliser.
The winner saw ex-Bengaluru man Lalhlimpuia’s shot take a deflection off a defender and Sandhu was beaten at his near post as the ball squirmed in. Bengaluru are limping to the play-offs after three losses in their last five. Sunil Chhetri was rested in the capital but came on to score. Bengaluru’s wall has leaks and the teams in the play-offs will smell blood.
Jamshedpur almost out of play-off race
Jamshedpur had 14 shots against Pune City but ended up getting hammered on their home turf with Robin Singh bagging his first brace in five years. This was the Steelmen’s third loss of the season, a joint lowest for the league along with the top three in the table.
A league-high eight draws have left their hopes of making the play-offs in the balance and despite the obvious quality in their ranks, they have not performed simultaneously in attack and defence to justify a top-four spot. They have three 2-2 draws to their names this season, proof that Jamshedpur’s defence has not held fort when the attack has fired.
Up front, Sergio Cidoncha and Tim Cahill’s absences haven’t been off-set adequately by Farukh Choudhary and Sumeet Passi. Four points off Mumbai City in fourth with two games to go, it almost seems certain that they will fall just short of the play-offs two seasons running. Bengaluru might be stuttering, but Jamshedpur’s final league game at home to the Blues will not be an easy prospect. The Tata Steel-owned club’s season is almost over.
Goa rejuvenated since ISL break
Their 2-0 loss to Pune City saw Goa in fourth and a third loss of the season. Sergio Lobera’s side could have crumbled but the ISL’s break came at the right time for Goa.
Unbeaten in six matches since resumption, their 3-0 wins over ATK and Kerala Blasters saw them go to the top of the table. Jackichand Singh’s first minute goal put Goa ahead against ATK, as Steve Coppell’s best-laid defensive plans went awry early on. Coro’s 37-year-old legs keep going and his three goals this week take his tally to 14, two above Bartholomew Ogbeche.
Small tweaks in defence have paid handsome dividends at the back while scoring 10 goals more than anyone else in the league. For a team criticised for not keeping too many clean sheets, that’s five in a row for Goa. Approaching the business end of the season, nothing will have made Lobera happier.