Pune FC leave leaders Churchill Bros. stunned
Pune FC kicked off an early Christmas celebration by achieving what no other I-League team managed against Churchill Brothers in their backyard this season by scoring a 2-0 win.
The victory came exactly after a round after the local favourites took charge of the league table as leaders. Pune FC’s win thus extended their unbeaten run to five matches and in the bargain maintained their clean slate against the home side registering their third win in five meetings so far.
Skipper Mandjou Keita spearheaded the Round 11 win with a Man-of-the-Match performance wherein he rocked the post in the first half before finding the net in the 59th minute of play.
Left-wing back Gurjinder Kumar (84th minute) slotted in a rebound that came off ‘keeper Felix D’Souza after failing to keep in check a stiff try by birthday-boy Douhou Pierre and settled the issue.
Keita’s strike was his fifth in five first eleven starts ever since he returned from injury and includes scoring in four matches, excluding the game against Mumbai FC.
For Pune FC, the victory was their second back-to-back in Goa this season. Earlier, Pune defeated Salgaocar SC on their last visit. In five away matched, Pune FC, logged their second win in five matches.
Pune FC took their points tally to 18 points and moved into sixth position despite tying on points with Prayag United SC. The Kolkata-side pips Pune FC owing to the head-to-head factor.
Opting to field a lone striker in Keita upfront rather than two, Pune FC included Caitano Costa who replaced Anas Edathodika, Othallo Tabia and Shanmugam Venkatesh to the playing eleven.
The Goans, playing on home turf, began aggressively and Pune FC lived dangerously initially. Medio Lalrindika Ralte rocked the goal-frame with a left-footer that hit the underside of the horizontal and stayed ahead of the goalline. Minutes later, Pune FC’s Abhra Mondal blocked a cross from the right, but not before Keita lost his footing as he ran in to a Lester Fernandez pass after Douhou did the spadework.
Pune FC then had Abhra keep out an well-struck indirectly taken 35-yard free-kick by Roberto Silva ‘Beto’ with a dive at the second post. A half volley missed by Henri Autchouet from close added to the tense moments Pune FC went through.
Having held out, Pune FC settled down and did their bit to scare their opponents. Keita, off a free kick, supplied Chika Wali a good ball who in-turn ended heading from a yard out onto the post to get even with opponents. Chika, thereafter, was once again in action only this time directing a header, into the keeper after Lester Fernandez found him in the clear.
Lester’s drive into the ‘keeper’s hands were indications of Pune FC stinging back and settling down to match their opponents by creating close chances.
At the other end, Ralte continued to be threat to Pune FC. First and in a matter of two minutes had two tries – one high and the other wide. But then, Pune FC had their moments as well. A cross swung in by Karma Tsewang from the right beat Denzil Franco only to have Keita crash his header onto the vertical.
Keeper Abhra at the other end pulled off a blinder of a save from Henri’s effort. Pune FC’s defence did well leaving no free space, which included a brilliant tackle by Gurjinder who kept Ralte in the check, to sign off an eventful first half.
On resumption, Pune FC’s horizontal came in the way for the second time by a Ralte header. With Srikant Ramu keeping in check playmaker Beto, Churchill Brothers somehow could not make headway.
In the 59th minute Pune FC went one up. Hardworking, Srikant working himself on the right beat Lenny Rodrigues on pace to send in a cross. Defender Naveen Sudhakaran in his haste of clearing got a faint knick to the ball as he tried to clear. However, while Naveen failed in his duty, Keita seeking behind at the far end headed in the one-bounce ball from 3-yards.
Pune FC switched to a 4-4-2 formation by bringing in Jeje Lalpeklua for Karma, which meant Shanmugam Venkatesh moving to the middle and Othallo Tabia to the right wing.
Attacking at will, Pune FC doubled the lead when Lester switched the ball to Douhou in the midfield and created space. The central midfielder moving past a defender got into the penalty area on the left. Douhou, now the clear, attempted with a stiff placement to the second post, which the keeper parry the shot, but Gurjinder who had moved up was quick to slot home a left footer with Denzil Franco and Ravanan Dharmaraj looking on as the ball rested into the corner.
Pune FC thus became the first team to inflict defeat on Churchill Brothers at home this season and with it ended the leaders five match run by equalling it themselves.