United Sikkim thumped Air India by five goals courtesy a Nurudeen Salau brace, but were certainly helped by the Airmen who had two players sent off in the first half itself...
While Nurudeen Salau and Pablo Rodriguez started upfront for the home team, ably supported by John Landa Matkin from midfield, the Airmen had Sukhwinder Singh, who had a brilliant outing against East Bengal in their last outing, starting in goal with Elijah Junior the only recognisable striker starting upfront. Henry Ezeh and Sandesh Gadkari were both relegated to the bench.
The first half hour was a tense affair with both teams being bogged down in midfield. Although the home team enjoyed the lion's share of the possession there were no real chances created by either team. It turned ugly for Anthony Fernandes and his boys in the 31st minute when Prem Kumar received a straight red for hauling down Nurudeen Salau who was baring down on goal. One might have argued that Kumar was not the last defender but the cynical nature of the challenge might have forced the referee's hand.
Although Pablo Hernandez blasted the ensuing freekick from just outside the box, over the bar; the loss of one man really foiled the gameplan of the away side and they looked all at sea. Things got from bad to worse when in added time of the first half, last match's hero Sukhwinder turned villain when he was guilty of bringing down Nurudeen who had successfully dribbled past the goalkeeper and had the empty net at his mercy. The referee had no hesitation and sent off the goalkeeper, leaving Air India with 9 men with more than an entire half to go.
Pablo Hernandez had no difficulty in converting the spot-kick and giving his team the lead, beating substitute goalie, Jagroop Singh with ease.
The second half was a different affair and for obvious reasons as Air India sat back wanting to keep the damage to a minimum, while Nathan Hall, sensing that they could go for the kill, asked his team to attack relentlessly. He had to wait only till the 55th minute when Matkin made a blistering run down the right and sent in a looping cross aiming for the far corner, which managed to evade his own players and the goalkeeper too as it sneaked into the net, giving him a rather unexpected goal.
Five minutes later, the rout had started as two goals within two minutes by Nigerian Salau gave Bhaichung Bhutia's men an unassailable four goal advantage. While the first goal was a result of Salau's solo effort, the second was a display of his poacher's instinct. After Matkin's thundering effort dipped in the air in front of Jagroop Singh in goal, the goalie failed to hold on to it and it was a simple tap in for Nurudeen who was in the right place at the right time.
The icing on the cake was added by midfielder Thupden Bhutia in second half added time. Jagroop had spilled the ball from his first time shot and Bhutia was there to head in the rebound into the open net.
The convincing win and the three points gave Nathan Hall a glimmer of hope to save relegation but they still lie second from bottom.
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