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An exciting I-League season is now over and recognises the best performers in each position during the season. We look at the last man in the defense now...

By Kaustav Bera

Another season of the I-League is done and dusted with, and with several high scoring games in this campaign, it can be easily concluded that the level of defending in the league hasn’t been up to expected levels, for a tournament of this magnitude.

Even then, there were several custodians which stood out from the rest and displayed their shot stopping abilities in front of goal. And thankfully, atleast in this position it is only Indians who ply their trade in the I-League and is probably the only position which does not attract foreign players. shortlists three of the best on show this season who played crucial roles in their team not conceding many goals, as well as leading the defense. This is in no particular order and is arranged alphabetically.

 Abhra Mondal | Pune FC

Abhra Mondal's case was a weird one. He found himself out of favour with East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan, having booted down third in the pecking order behind Sandip Nandy and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and had no game time finding himself in the reserve bench.

A small window of opportunity presented to him when Derrick Pereira came calling as Pune FC were laden with injuries on the goal keeping front with India No. 1 Subrata Paul out for long and second choice Shahinlal Meloly too suffering from an injury early on. Abhra decided to take the opportunity and the Kolkata club loaned him out to the Pune outfit.

The rest as they say is history as in his eleven games for the Pune outfit he showed that he was probably the best in the business as Pune FC went on an unbeaten 11 game streak with Abhra in goal. And it was no coincidence as he pulled off first class saves even when his defense was beaten for good. This also corresponded with East Bengal's woes with their keeper and how Morgan could have wished that Abhra remained with his side.

However, in a cruel tryst of fate, Abhra suffered an injury while on Pune duty against Shillong which put him out for the reason. And guess what, the very next game against Sporting Goa, coincidentally or not Pune conceded four and ended up losing, thus ending their unbeaten run.

Karanjit Singh | Salgaocar SC

Karanjit Singh has made the most of his opportunities to make him the undisputed India No. 1 after Subrata Paul's injury. He has pulled off great performances to solidify his claim to be India's first choice goalie.

He has also translated his national form at club level as he boasts the lowest number of goals conceded in the I-League, a miserly 19 goals by Salgaocar in the entire campaign of which he conceded 17 in 20 appearances.

His short stopping ability was unrivalled but this season he also showed his presence under the bar as he grabbed the aerial balls launched into the box with ease too besides commandeering his defense with military precision.

Although Salgaocar could only finish sixth, it was not Karanjit's fault as he held his fort with gusto and it was the attackers' profligacy upfront which saw the former I-League champions end their campaign on a disappointing note.

 Pawan Kumar | Air India

It is indeed surprising for a goalkeeper to be nominated in the top 3 goalkeepers of the season when his team finished 9th in the league and has conceded 37 goals. However this was a case where the individual's performance did not quite measure up to the team's effort.

Individually, Pawan Kumar had a stunning season as he made save after save to keep his team in the hunt. But a leaky defense coupled with a lack of attacking impetus up front meant that a clean sheet was a distant dream for the custodian as even if he saved ten sure goals, he would end up conceding two in the process.

It was Pawan Kumar who kept the clean sheet in an eventful match against Shillong Lajong where he thwarted wave after wave of opposition attacks and even saved a late penalty to give his side a point.

If a goalkeeper is singled out for praise even after conceding 2 or 3 goals in a match, then it is obvious he has done something special. That was the case when Dempo coach, Armando Colaco singled him out for praise even when Air India went down 3-1 to the champions.

“Their goalkeeper made a big difference. I would love to take him for our team. Not only was he a great shot-stopper but he also played as a good sweeper. His saves were brilliant and it was just some great goalkeeping by him,”

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