Armando Colaco's side let go off a glorious chance to close the gap on the leaders as second half strikes by Prakash Thorat and Ezeh Henry help Air India earn three pointsAir India held on against a Dempo onslaught late in the game, to register a 2-1 win in an I-League game at the Balewadi stadium in Pune on Sunday.
Second half strikes by Prakash Thorat in the 51st minute and Ezeh Henry in the 58th minute seemed to have taken the hosts home, but a John Menyongar goal in the 83rd minute, set-up an interesting last few minute in the game. Dempo saw two shots come off the bar and a strong shout for a penalty was turned away.
The hosts made four changes to their line-up from the drubbing against Prayag United, with the likes of Ong Lepcha, Souvik Chakraborty, Micky Fernandes and Jagroop Singh, all being benched. John Dias, Bubai Singh, Pratik Chowdhary and Vijith Shetty took their places.
Armando Colaco too made a couple of alterations to his line-up, with Peter Carvalho and John Menyongar replacing Godwin Franco and Clifford Miranda.
The Airmen, in a desperate need of a win, started brightly, with Prakash Thorat, Ezeh Henry and E. Junior, all attempting shots from around the box, but none troubled Subhasish Roychowdhury in-between the sticks for Dempo.
However the defending league champions soon took control of the proceedings, and Anthony Pereira spurned a glorious opportunity to put his side ahead, when he was picked by a delightful pass by Ryuji Sueoka. The Indian International then dribbled past Gagandeep Singh and had a clear sight at goal. However he failed to keep his composure and shot over the bar.
John Menyongar was the next to try his luck, fashioning a chance for himself with a good dribbling run past a couple of defenders. The Liberian too though, failed to hit the target, much to the relief of Bubai Singh, who started in goal for the hosts.
Air India then replied with a couple of efforts of their own, with Baldeep Singh’s effort going just wide, while Roychowdhury had to be on his toes to keep out a long distance effort by M. Pradeep.
Junior then was inches away from connecting with an inviting cross by Vijith Shetty at the near post, as the Airmen looked to finish the half with something to show for their superior play in attack.
However their efforts proved in vain, as the two teams went into half-time, tied at 0-0.
Minutes into the second half though could and perhaps should have gone ahead, when a Gagandeep Singh cross left Henry Ezeh with a simple header, with Roychowdhury completely stranded in goal. However the Nigerian somehow managed to head wide, even though it looked easier to score from there.
Prakash Thorat then showed him how it is done, as a Vijith Shetty throw was flicked on towards Thorat, who headed the ball home, to give his side the lead in the 51st minute.
E. Junior almost doubled his side’s lead, when he was played in by Henry. However Roychowdhury was quick off his line, and saved his side’s blushes.
Joaquim Abranches though, had no place to hide, when he failed to tap in a goal at the far post, after a hopeful cross somehow found its way all the way across the goal-mouth.
Dempo were made to pay for it, as in the 58th minute, Ezeh Henry doubled his side’s lead, as he muscled past a couple of defenders, to get on the end of a hopeful freekick into the box, which the away side failed to deal with.
Thorat almost added insult to injury, as Colaco’s side failed to deal with another ball into the box, and it fell kindly for the attacker at the edge of the box. However the midfielder went for power instead of placement, and saw his effort go over the bar.
The Goan side made a flurry of substitutions to get back into the game, and two of them, Romeo Fernandes and Joy Ferrao, linked up well, with the former showing good pace down the wing and crossing for the latter, whose first time effort came back off the bar, much to his anguish.
Just when it looked like it was curtains for Colaco’s side, John Menyongar was quickest to react to a loose ball in the box, pulling one back in the 83rd minute.
The Liberian almost got the equalizer too, but the bar yet again came to the Airmen’s rescue, as Menyongar’s shot came crashing back into play.
The hosts then held on for a vital three points, which sees them move to 18 points on the table, one off Shillong Lajong, who occupy the 11th spot.
Dempo on the other hand stay third, five points off East Bengal, though they have a game in hand.
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