There cannot be a better way to allay relegation fears than what Mohammedan Sporting and under their new coach Mehrajuddin Wadoo showed in the Hero I-League on Friday, February 24, 2023. They earned an incredible and memorable 6-4 win against table-toppers Sreenidi Deccan at Kishore Bharati Krirangan here, denting the Hyderabad side’s title hopes.
It is strange how things change in sport suddenly. As the coach of Real Kashmir, Mehrajuddin saw his team struggle to find the net and a long winless streak on the road led to his ouster. Mohammedan Sporting footballers have also been guilty of wasting too many scoring opportunities in many a match, languishing at the tenth spot on the Hero I-League table as a result. That is how Kibu Vicuna lost his job. But today, in the very first match under the new coach, the Nikola Stojanovic and Co. converted almost every chance they created.
They kick-off whistle was still ringing in the ears of the few thousand Mohammedan Sporting fans when they got a corner from the right flank. It would be tough to find a better-planned and better-executed set piece. Nikola delivered not to the goalmouth melee but to Mirlan Murzaev, who was standing away from the madding crowd, on the edge of the box. He headed it on to Hero of the Match Kevin Lewis, who calmly received it with the left foot and then volleyed in with his right. It was 1-0.
But Sreenidi’s Nigerian recruit Rilwan Hassan seemed hell-bent on outdoing Lewis with a picturesque goal. So he got into the box from left with three defenders surrounding him. Hassan played a wall pass with David Castaneda that foxed them, got into a shooting position and found the net with a right-footer at the far post, making it 1-1.
That was the start of the madness.
With midfielders of both sides reluctant on nipping attacks in the bud, there was end to end action and Abiola Dauda made it 2-1 in the 21st minute. He got the ball on the left wing from Lewis, cut in through two defenders and unleashed a fierce right-footer from outside the box. There was not much Sreenidi goalkeeper CK Ubaid could do.
The Mohammedan defence was not doing any better in tackling early and paid the price soon. Faysal Shayesteh lobbed one for Castaneda into the box and since nobody was there to head it out, Sairuatkima held on to the Colombian’s jersey. The referee had to award a penalty and flash the yellow card. Castaneda had no problems scoring his 15th goal of the season from the spot. It was 2-2 and the match was only 28 minutes old.
But only a couple of minutes later, Lewis sent a through pass into the box that caught Sreenidi’s Ghanaian defender Awwal Mohammed napping. Dauda cleverly tapped it past onrushing Ubaid with the left foot, pretending to go with the right. 3-2.
As if so much action was not enough for one half, Shaher Shaheen had to make a goalline save in the stoppage time.
The second half started on the same hectic note. Nikola’s exquisite back heel found Dauda right in front of the goal and Ubaid was magnificent in denying him from point blank. However, he was helpless in the 48th minute as Sheikh Faiaz scored with a left-footer off a lob from Murzaev. That 4-2 cushion was threatened twice by Castaneda in the next 20 minutes. First he was denied by a superb save by Mohammedan goalie Zothanmawia and on the second occasion, his head went just over the bar.
But Lewis took the issue beyond Sreenidi with a show of superb individual skill in the 67th minute. Getting the ball just outside box, he wrong-footed two defenders with one dodge and unleashed a scorching right-footer to make it 5-2.
Palpably upset Sreenidi coach Carlos Pinto got rid of Ubaid two minutes later and also replaced Hassan with his compatriot Louis Ogana. But the coach seemed to have accepted defeat and decided to keep his best weapon fresh, when he replaced Castaneda in the 75th minute. However, Ogana did the best he could. His powerful back head off Faysal’s free-kick in the 79th minute reduced the margin to 5-3. But the Deccan defence looked resigned to their fate when Nikola went past three of them in the very next minute to make it 6-3.
Rosenberg Gabriel was not giving up though. He came in from the right wing and made it 6-4 with a right-footer, despite Zothanmawia standing at the near post. The absence of a tackle was either a sign of Mohammedan defenders’ fatigue in the third minute of stoppage time, or of the knowledge that the lead was unassailable.
Incredibly enough, Dauda could have actually increased the margin just before the final whistle, but his shot off a cute back heel from Murzaev inside the Sreenidi box hit the upright.
Mohammedan are now up to the eighth spot on the Hero I-League table with 23 points from 19 matches, while RoundGlass Punjab now get the chance to become leaders when they take on Sudeva Delhi on Sunday.