The I-League title race is over. Bengaluru FC emphatically sealed their stamp over Indian football's premium domestic championship, with a game in hand, as they downed Salgaocar FC in the Garden City, to ensure Ashley Westwood won his second league title in three years.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh opened the scoring (8') and Seminlen Doungel ended it (87') in yet another efficient win for the Blues that reverberated throughout Indian football as the Bangalore-based side celebrated vividly at the end.
"This victory feels a lot better," claimed the new holder of the I-League, Westwood, who further added, "In the first one, people said it was a fluke given it was our first year. We should have won the second year also as we were the best side by a mile. We went 13 games undefeated. and lost with three or four minutes to go. I wanted that to never happen again. We have won it at home, in front of our own fans and a game to spare.
"All along the season I said 32 points will win it, two points a game and that has been proven right. We haven't had the best squad and not the best individual talents. Individuals win you games and not the league. That's what has happened. You saw a really well oiled side, all players and staff pulling in the right direction wanting to force the ball over the line."
"I was gutted to leave good players out today as some were not even in the 18 despite a good result against Ayeyawady United on Wednesday. It was very competitive with 23 outfield players and with Shankar Sampingiraj injured. We used 11 players under the age of 23 and we have had 10 different goal scorers and that just shows you we have a good side but we have to work hard. I wouldn't swap any team for other as we have been working hard from July onwards. We got the accolades we deserved and I would have been gutted if we would not have won. We want more. We want to win the Federation Cup and we can and also we want the Asian Football Confederations (AFC) Cup till the end of May and I will be striving to end my job off," expressed the diligent coach.
The 39-year-old coach believes his team handled the absence of key personnel really well, replying to question on the highs and lows of the present season, "It has been a tough season with the impact of the Indian Super League (ISL). We had injuries and late arrivals and then we had to get the team in and running for the season. We started the season well with victories but then we faced the injuries of Eugeneson, Shankar and then Len (Doungel) too. Robin (Singh) was always out for the season. We chopped and changed a few times. We protected the young players, put them in when needed and taken when not. I managed it really well and we have got what we deserved."
Claiming he foresaw Bagan's downfall in the I-League, Westwood stated, "Mohun Bagan were in flying form but we always knew they would break. We had a better organised squad than they have."
"We have always respected the Under-22 rule and today the so called 'top Indian coach' (Santosh Kashyap) took his out after 22 minutes. That should not happen and it should be looked up but it is really not our business. I really need to enjoy this as we have put two stars in our shirt," expressed Westwood, who crooned about his record in the league with youth.
Finally, the two time I-League winning coach revealed this season of the I-League was tougher than the previous three he'd participated in because according to him, whilst the Indian players were nowhere near fit to complete 90 minutes in his first season in the subcontinent, but believes India's coaches 'learn't new tricks,' in the present season.
"It is because we have only 16 games to play and won it in the 15th. So, the margin for error was low. 16 games aren't really enough for a consistent team to do it but we won because we were consistent. The first year it was easier because the standard of football was nowhere near. The fitness was not upto the mark. I remember most matches we played, players were dying of cramps and dropping on the pitch. Indian players were not equipped to complete 90 minutes.
"There has been a lot of changes in the last three years. Coaches have gotten better and have learnt new tricks. This one is more satisfying as we have a good bunch of honest lads pushing each other day in day out," signed off Westwood.