The Balewadi stadium was painted orange on Wednesday evening; thanks to dual strikes from prolific striker Emiliano Alfaro which overshadowed Balwant Singh's excellent first-half opener. A 74th-minute penalty-kick and the winning goal in added time (90+3) meant that The Stallions emerged victorious in the Maharashtra Derby. However, the culprit behind those two goals was a player from the state of Maharashtra - the 27-year-old defender of Mumbai City FC, Raju Eknath Gaikwad.
What unfolded in Pune on Wednesday night was dramatic, to say the least. Within the first quarter of the match, 30-year-old Indian international Balwant Singh got back on the scoresheet; his first goal after returning from injury which kept him out of the latest national camp of the Blue Tigers and the opening fixture of Mumbai City FC. The Hoshiarpur-born forward received the ball on the left flank, cut in on his right and released a pile-driver through the space between Baljit Sahni and Marcos Tebar, which flew past the reach of custodian Kamaljit Singh.
The opening goal boosted the morale of the visitors and at the same time saw the hosts pull up their socks. While FC Pune City bounced back well with the trio of Diego Carlos, Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro engaged in building real chances, a lack of clinical finishing kept the elusive goal away.
It was in the latter half that the Arjun Kapoor co-owned outfit preyed on Alexandre Guimaraes’ troops as they were gifted chances on the field; both goal-scoring incidents coming from the Tata Football Academy product Raju Gaikwad’s mistakes. In the 74th minute, the former Mohun Bagan defender brought down Diego Carlos inside Mumbai City FC’s box with an unnecessary challenge on the Brazilian’s ankles. There was absolutely no need to challenge Carlos at that point because he had nowhere to go and had Marcio's attention on him.
Obviously, the referee awarded a penalty which was successfully converted by Alfaro. Sadly, this was just one of the two major errors committed by the defender.
The second mistake by Gaikwad came in the final minutes of the match which served the three points on a platter for The Stallions . Substitute Jonatan Lucca spotted Diego Carlos’ sprint on the right and sent a long-ball for the winger. A lackadaisical Gaikwad slipped and failed to cut out the pass and was guilty of letting Carlos stride through on goal. The 24-year-old carried the ball forward before he squared it for Alfaro, who handed his side all three points with a tap in.
Although Alfaro and Carlos’ movement can’t be overlooked, the build-up to the chance could have been blocked had Gaikwad been more rational, alert and fruitful in his defensive gestures. It is believed that the Mumbai outfit’s defensive organisation will be their identity and strength this season but when such blunders occur, doubts arise. It is still early in the season but a shaky defence can cost points more often than not. With Davinder Singh back to fitness and Mehrajuddin Wadoo available for picks, coach Alexandre Guimaraes has options in his hands to fix the complications in the right-back position.