AFTER TWO goalless draws Mumbai FC finally came out of their shell to claim their first even win in I-League 2015-16 against Salgaocar in a 2-1 thriller at the Cooperage Stadium today.
This was the first time that Mumbai were playing all 4 foreingers this season, with the injured Steven Dias making way for new signing Ryuki Kozawa in the starting line-up. Salgaocar also made one change from the side that lost 4-2 to Mohun Bagan, with Calvin Mbarga coming in for Gilbert Oliveira.
The game was exciting from the get go. An early run from Jayesh Rane up the left flank allowed him to get too close to the Salgaocar goalmouth for comfort and his shot went over the bar; otherwise the visitors would be in trouble then and there.
Mbarga was eager to justify the start he was given. He raised a counter early on and fired from 25 yards out but only found the keeper. Jackichand Singh was also in full form. A cross from him saw Duffy with a scoring chance. His shot went just wide of the target.
Mumbai FC countered with Kozawa feeding Arata Izumi whose shot was deflected for a corner. As Jayesh Rane sent in the corner kick Pratik Shinde managed to get a header on target but it was cleared for a corner again.
Half an hour into the game, a cross from Eric Brown saw Jayesh Rane, inside the Salgaocar box, head it towards an onrushing Taisuke Matsugane who let fly but missed the target. But the Japanese attacking medio wasn't going to be denied much longer. Minutes later, Taisuke fired at the goal from a distance. Not as far as the famous goal he netted against Pune FC last season but quite far. And the ball rammed into the net. Mumbai FC had scored their first goal of the season.
Now chasing the game, Salgaocar head coach Malky Thomson immediately replaced the junior Alesh Sawant with Seityasen Singh. The physical aspect of the match came to the fore as well. Darryl Duffy and Taisuke Matsugane (already on a yellow) had an altercation after the goal that got Duffy a booking.
Then Salgaocar almost equalised. Gurjinder stepped up to take a free-kick, and it beat everyone and seemed to be swinging down into the target... but it came off the crossbar. Bad luck ruined the visitors' chances to end the first half with the scorelines level. It was 1-0 to Mumbai FC.
And at the very beginning of the second half that lead doubled. Eric Brown got Taisuke in possession inside the Salgaocar box and when keeper Karanjit went all out to prevent him from scoring he passed it to Sushil Kumar who easily found the net. It was 2-0 now.
And it would be 3-0 but for a brilliant save by Karanjit Singh off another close-range Sushil Kumar who got the ball from Arata Izumi.
Salgaocar were now trying their hardest to come back into the game. There was a shout for penalty when Duffy fell inside Mumbai FC box with Pratik Shinde in tow but the referee did not buy it. Then Jackichand tried to invade the box from the right flank but North Korean defender Son Min-chol averted the danger.
But Jackichand did get one back for Salgaocar. He ran up the right flank that drew Mumbai custodian Pawan Kumar out of his position and when he lobbed it over into the goal there was no one at the goalmouth to save it. Salgaocar were back in the game. 2-1.
As the match entered the final minutes the tension was peaking. Both teams were giving it their best; and Mumbai FC had reverted to their familiar old game of biting down on the ground and defending their lead. Still, Salgaocar came close. Very, very close.
Gurjinder's free kick saw Duffy beat half a dozen defenders and meeting with his header. As the ball flew towards the goal, it was clear that Pawan Kumar wasn't going to get it... but the ball hit the crossbar again. Duffy sat down holding his head; that was the equaliser right there; with only 5 minutes to spare.
Twice Salgaocar hit the crossbar, towards the very end of each half, and had even one of them gone in the match could have a very different outcome. But it wasn't their day. The game ended 2-1, with Salgaocar languishing at the bottom of the league table with 3 successive defeats. Mumbai FC, meanwhile, rose to the 4th place with 5 points from 3 matches. Like the clubs above them Khalid Jamil's boys are still unbeaten and this is one of their best starts in the I-League, ever. This win was a much-needed boost for the team, before going up against Bengaluru FC at home on Wednesday.
Salgaocar, meanwhile, are slipping into dangerous territory. They will want to turn things around when they travel to Shillong to face Shillong Lajong on Thursday. The league is shorter this season and momentum matters a lot more than we have usually seen in the I-League. Sitting on the dreaded solitary relegation spot, Malky Thomson and his boys are now running against the clock.