Pune FC wrote a new chapter in Indian football history on a day best remembered for goalkeeper Shahilal Meloly’s heroics on debut against Blackburn Rovers FC.
At the end of the day, the turn out at the Balewadi Sports Complex was in for a treat that practically had every incident that could possible take place in a match. An excellent crowd on a rain kissed evening under lights provided the perfect atmosphere, but then as the evening moved on the visitors treated all to excellent goals, but not before Pune FC put on a show of grit and gumption despite defender Anas Edatodika shocking see the red card 15 minutes after kick off.
Nevertheless, the exhibition tie, which ended 3-0 in favour of the Lancashire-based EPL squad was a treat that served the purpose of top-class entertainment.
While Pune FC hogged the popularity charts with several segments of the spectators going on and on with the oft repeated “Who are We P.F.C,” it was the heart which Pune FC played with that won them honour in defeat.
Rovers dominating proceedings, at all times found medio Douhou Pierre a little too stiff when with the ball. Likewise, in the backline Chika Wali’s never to give up defending, which went throwing his body and stretching to every limit uncountable times was a treat in its own.
In the opening minutes, Friday’s two-goal hero Jason Roberts got the first feel of Chika when the defender absorbed the attempt inside the box. Pune FC had their runs, though comparatively less in number, into the opposition box, but when they did they did manage to go deep before being outpowered.
Arata, fouled on the right, led to Douhou playing a quick short pass to Othallo Tabia who’s cross into the ‘keeper’s hands was indication enough that Pune FC were not overawed by the huge credentials of their opponents.
But while the opponents settled it was Pune FC who defended most. Arata in one instance headed out an off the line attempt by Yakubu off a corner.
Defender Anas then robustly challenged Junior Hoilett on the right wing to earn a yellow card. In doing so Anas’ ensured that he’s not the man to be taken easy.
Soon later, striker Jeje Lalpekhlua got the the spectator to strain out their decibels-levels with a run deep into the Rover’s box after beating a defender. Pulling back the ball Jeje found Baldeep, the hardworking medio all night long, who fired over.
Gurjinder Kumar then had a lob intended for Jeje midway into the Rovers half be put out by Gael Givet. Anas, then, complete a double tackle on Mauro Formica, to earn the wrath of the referee who flashed the second yellow for Anas.
With Anas off the fould earned Rovers a 25-yard free-kick. Reben Rochina’s left footed curling attempt past the wall pushed keeper Shahinlal to his maximum to keep the ball out at the far post.
Pune FC thereafter sustained a wave of attacks. And both central defenders Chika and Costa either threw himself or stretched to cut of passes including a stiff attempt by Roberts from inside the box.
Steven N’Zonzi then catapatalising from a steal from Gurjinder before Chika Wali block his hard short. Gurjinder, later, kept out a Christopher Samba’s header off a corner kick.
On the half hour Othallo’s cross found Jeje rear up but was wanting in height. At the other end, Shahinlal then dived at the feet of Roberts to cut off the attack.
Roberts eventually made the breakthrough on 35 minutes, firing home a right-foot shot on the turn at the near post from 10 yards out even as Chika slid to cut off the attempt aided by Costa.
Pune FC survived a close call soon later when Junior Holliet, from top of the box, sent a cheeky jabbed chip that hit the underside of the bar, but away from goalline as Shahinlal looked at the amazing trajectory the ball took.
At the other end, Douhou capatalised on a steal from N’Zonzi to have Jeje try from long but the grounder though aimed well but lacked the desired punch.
Three minutes from the end, in a counter, Pune FC moved in through the hardworking Venkatesh. A long cross from the right put jeje in position on top of the box and as Arata overlapped on the outside for Jejej to release the sriker was done in.
Seconds before half time, Douhou did well covering almost 25 yards into the Blackburn penalty box only to end up having his pass cut off by a defender which otherwise was intended for Jeje.
Changing ends, it was Shahinlal’s who. Rochina’s left footed try from 20 yards was kept out by Shahin and close on the heels was Formica’s right footer from inside the box.
Yakubu had costa and Douhou keep out a try, while Holliet’s attempt to cross from the left was acrobatically cut off by Shahinlal.
On 52 minutes, Rochina scored with a fierce left-foot shot from just outside the box following Chika’s outstretched attempt to clear a Zac Aley’s cross from the left. As the ball rolled clear, Rochina’s cannonball took off way beyond the Pune custodian’s line of vision. By the time his eyes locked on the ball, it curled away beyond his left shoulder and high into the net. Rovers 2-0.
Gurjinder then with an ambitiously try highlighted Pune FC determination, before the inclusion of Lester Fernandez added sting.
Shahinlal then ambitiously cut off Myles Anderson with a header from 4 yards out of the penalty box after realizing that he was the last line of defence. At this point Shahin was unstoppable and enjoyed the high he worked himself into, which included a triple save as well.
The addition of Subash and Srikanth added sting. Subash got into the groove setting off ambitiously deep on a couple of runs, while Srikanth had the crowd stands with a long attempt from the right.
And just when it seemed as if Shahinlal will keep the score as it was, Robertscompleted the scoring 12 minutes from time when defender Chika deflected the ball into his path and he made no mistake from six yards.
Eventually, the collective determination of deciding not to get overawed by the opponents helped in end analysis.