Three consecutive wins has taken JCT ever closer to survival as they are now in seventh spot and nine points above the bottom two with only three rounds remaining.
Each and every member of the squad have played their part in the recent good run but two players who should be singled out for their outstanding performances are the Nigerian strikers – Henry Ezeh & Emmanuel Okoro.
If we go by statistics it will reveal how heavily JCT have depended on the two in the second half of the season. Since round 13, JCT have scored 11 goals in 10 matches with 10 of them coming from Henry and Okoro, both scoring five goals each.
JCT actually started the season with just one foreigner in the form of midfielder Penn Orji, who also hails from Nigeria. The I-League’s only northern representative started their campaign with two consecutive wins with young Baljit Singh Sahni in the form of his life.
Sahni, who is a midfielder, was used a striker and that tactical change by then JCT coach Sukwhinder Singh paid dividends as the 23 year old scored six goals in seven matches.
But round eight proved to be a major turning point in JCT’s season as Baljit Sahni and Sunil Kumar suffered a bike accident in Goa, with both suffering serious injuries and were thus ruled out of action for quite some time.
The absence of Sahni troubled JCT as they struggled to score goals and all the pressure was on Penn Orji, who to his credit did everything he could to keep his side away from the drop zone.
Towards the end of the first half of the campaign, JCT signed Emmanuel Okoro and Henry Ezeh with the former making his debut against Air India. But Okoro couldn’t make an instant impact as his team went down at home 0-2. The league then went for a break with JCT only four points above the drop zone.
When the I-League resumed in March, coach Parminder Singh opted to play Okoro and Henry Ezeh upfront and pushed back Baljit Sahni in midfield.
That move produced an immediate result as JCT defeated Lajong in Shillong thanks to Okoro’s first goal of the season.
In the next match against Salgaocar, Henry opened his account in the 1-1 draw against Salgaocar. By then the two strikers had adapted well to the Indian conditions and were complementing each other very well.
JCT held Mohun Bagan to a goalless draw in round 16 and then defeated fellow relegation contenders Mumbai FC 1-0 thanks to a well taken winner from Okoro.
With eight points in four games, JCT were once again well on course to beat the drop but three consecutive defeats in Goa dropped them down in the table.
Both Henry and Okoro struggled against title contenders Dempo and Churchill and were not at their best against bottom placed Sporting also.
Going into the round 21, JCT were only one point above the drop zone and entertained an in-form Viva Kerala side, who were unbeaten in seven matches.
The club from Ludhiana was up against it but the two Nigerian strikers stepped up at the right moment and produced their best performances of the season. Henry scored a hat-trick while Okoro bagged a brace to ensure a 5-1 drubbing of Viva.
JCT of course went on two the next two matches as well both by the 1-0 scoreline with Henry scoring the winner against Chirag and Okoro doing the same in the away win over Air India.
Henry Ezeh and Emmanuel Okoro have once again shown the importance of foreigners in Indian football as they have taken responsibility and delivered for their team at the business end of the season.
Even though JCT would have liked their Indian players to perform that way as well, they wouldn’t mind the fact that it was their two Nigerian strikers who bailed them out of danger.
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