Pune FC kicked off an early Christmas celebration by achieving what no other I-League team managed against Churchill Brothers in their backyard so far by scoring a 2-0 win at the Nehru Stadium, Fatorda, Goa, on Wednesday.
The victory was logged one round after the Goans took charge of the league table as leaders. Pune FC’s win thus extended their unbeaten run to five matches and maintained their clean slate against the home side with 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) slammed in a rebound that came off ‘keeper Felix D’Souza who failed to keep a stiff try by birthday-boy Douhou Pierre to settle 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, barring the game against Mumbai FC.
For Pune FC, the victory was their second back-to-back this season in Goa after defeating Salgaocar SC in their last visit. So far, Pune FC logged their second away win in five matches.
Pune FC took their points tally to 18 points and into sixth position despite drawing level on points with Prayag United SC. The Kolkata side holds the advantage of a better head-to-head having beaten Pune FC.
The Goans, playing on home turf, began aggressively and Pune FC lived dangerously with medio Lalrindika Ralte rocking the post with a stunning left-footer. 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 indirectly taken 35-yard free-kick by Roberto Silva ‘Beto’ with a dive to save at the second post. A half-volley missed by Henri Autchouet from close was a scare to Pune FC.
Having survived, Pune FC settled down and did their bit to scaring the Goan side. Keita, off a free kick, supplied Chika Wali a good ball who ended heading from 1 yard out onto the post and return the favour. Chika was once again in action 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 settling down and matching their opponents with close chances.
At the other end, Ralte constantly poses a threat to Pune FC, who almost went ahead ehen a cross swung in by Karma Tsewang from the right beat Denzil Franco only to have Keita now crash his header on the far 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 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 is his haste of clearing got a faint knick to the ball in his bid to clear, however as the rival player failing to connect, Keita headed in the one-bounce ball from 3-yards.
Pune FC who played with just Keita upfront 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 to create the opening. The central midfielder moving past a defender got into the penalty box 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.