Pune FC bounced back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over United SC in an I-League Round 15 encounter at the Municipal Stadium in Kalyani on Sunday.
The win was Pune FC’s first away league win over United SC and was powered by a first-half brace from striker Riga Mustapha (11th & 24th minute). Defender Hasan Al Moustafa (48th) pulled one back for the hosts early in the second half.
It was also the first time Pune FC scored more than one goal against United SC in match held outside Pune in all competitions since promotion to the elite league.
Coach Mike Snoei made four changes to the squad from the previous round bringing in Anthony D’Souza, James Meyer, Othallo Tabia and Mumtaz Akhtar in place of Thongkhosiem Haokip, Gurjinder Kumar, Fanai Lalrempuia and Arata Izumi.
Pune FC had the better start to the match as they held on to the ball much better than the hosts. Eleven minutes in, Pune FC made their territorial advantage count taking the lead through Riga.
Skipper Anas Edathodika excellently played Riga through down the right and the striker didn’t disappoint with his low shot across the goal ending up in the back of the net at the far post.
Post the quarter hour mark, both sides began pressing and the game witnessed pure end-to-end action.
First winger James Meyer’s cross in from the right was saved just ahead of the onrushing attackers whereas at the other end, striker Ranti Martins saw his cross from the right cleared.
Moments later, Pune FC once again went close. Riga, in a 3 (PFC) on 2 (USC) situation, tried to chip the goalkeeper from 40-yards out after some intelligent play by Douhou Pierre. However, his effort was saved by the goalkeeper.
And a minute later, attacker Eric Brown intercepted Anas Edathodika’s ball before setting up Ranti at the other end only for him to shoot wide.
Midway through the half, Riga completed his brace giving Pune FC a two goal cushion. Defender Salam Ranjan Singh did well to win the ball in the midfield before finding Douhou. The Ivorian thereafter found Meyer on the right whose low ball into the box was tapped in by Riga from six-yards.
At the half hour mark, Douhou saw his effort from range being saved after Meyer had set him up. At the other end, the hosts had a direct attempt from a long range freekick go over.
Five minutes later, custodian Abhijit Das produced another save as he blocked Meyer’s volley after defender Calum Angus and winger Anthony D’Souza combined to set him up.
Moments later, Calum found Ranjan at the far post after a short corner from Douhou. However the young defender failed to shoot with acres of space.
In the final minute of the half, Eric beat defender Othallo Tabia and found Ranti. Despite being checked by Calum, the Nigerian got a shot from close which was saved by ‘keeper Amrinder Singh to keep Pune FC’s two goal lead intact.
Three minutes after restart, Pune FC suffered a blow as United SC pulled a goal back. After medio Lalkamal Bhowmick’s long range freekick was blocked by Pune FC’s defensive wall, the stray ball fell for Hasan who slotted home giving Amrinder no chance.
The goal gave a boost to United SC’s confidence as they started knitting moves in the Pune FC half while going close on several occasions. Pune FC, on the other hand, sustained pressure but pushed ahead on counter attacks.
At the hour mark, Douhou found Anthony in space on the left. The winger lobbed the ball for Riga on the run, but the ball bounced too high allowing the keeper to collect. At the other end, C. K. Vineeth saw a couple of long range attempts go over.
The game had turned physical with players from either side taking knocks. Dhanpal Ganesh was hurt after stamp on his thigh during a tackle while Anas took Ranti’s boot in his face after flinging himself for a header.
While Ganesh was replaced by Lalrempuia midway through the half, winger Anthony D’Souza was replaced by Velington Rocha after twisting his ankle and being stretchered out minutes later.
Into the final quarter, Pune FC had a glorious chance to make it three. After a good run on the right, Meyer’s pinpoint cross saw an onrushing Rocha’s header saved from close range by the ‘keeper.
Both sides created a couple of chances in the final minutes but Pune FC held on for their first win in six matches.
Man of the Match: Riga Mustapha (Pune FC)