Pune FC impress in Durand Cup opener

The Red Lizards impress in Karim Bencherifa's first competitive game-in-charge against lowly Churchill Brothers...

Pune FC began their Durand Cup campaign in style with a comfortable 3-0 win over Churchill Brothers SC in the quarterfinal stage Group-IV encounter at the Raia Sports Complex, Goa.

Goals from midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh, skipper Arata Izumi and substitute striker Thongkhosiem Haokip handed coach Karim Bencherifa a convincing win in his first competitive game in-charge. The win takes Pune FC to the top of Group-IV with three points.

The game was marred with controversy towards the end, as custodian Amrinder Singh was sent off deep into injury time forcing Pune FC to play with ten men for the final few minutes.

Coach Bencherifa handed starts to new signings Matthew Gonsalves, Luciano Sabrosa, Raju Yumnam, Ryuji Sueoka and Shoaib Syed.

The game began frantically with both sides pushing up from the word go. However, despite Churchill having more possession, it was Pune FC who stayed calm and opened scoring inside the first ten minutes.

Having earned a freekick just outside the box on the right flank, Sueoka sent in a low ball which the Churchill defense failed to clear. In the melee that followed, Ganesh was successful in pushing the ball into the net from 3-yards out.

The goal gave Pune FC confidence as they started to attack more. At the same time, Churchill, banking heavily on striker Odafa Okolie, kept on giving him the ball but the big Nigerian was marked out by defenders Matthew and Salam Ranjan Singh.

Midway through the half, winger Prakash Thorat came agonisingly close to getting his first goal for Pune FC. A quick backheel on the left flank from Anthony D’Souza released Raju whose accurate cross at the far post fell for Prakash whose acrobatic attempt was palmed away by the ‘keeper.

A minute past the half hour mark, keeper Amrinder received his first booking after the referee penalised him for time-wasting. At the other end, Pune FC kept on pushing and had Sueoka and Prakash go close.

Into first half added time, Odafa created a good chance for the home side. His dribbled past three defenders outside the box and set up Micky whose piledriver went straight into Amrinder as the half came to a close with Pune FC leading 1-0.

The second half was a similar story as Pune FC continued to dominate proceedings. Four minutes in, Sueoka beat the offside trap, but his diving header off Matthew’s cross in from the right went wide.

Pune FC’s persistence paid off as two minutes later skipper Arata doubled the lead. A perfect short pass from Anthony to Arata down the middle saw the India international dribble past a defender on the edge of the box and chip the ball over an on rushing keeper into the net.

As the game turned physical, Pune FC had another golden chance to increase the lead. Two minutes past the hour mark, Sueoka capitalised on a loose ball and set up Anthony down the left. The Goan winger timed the run well but his attempt from inside the box was saved by the Churchill custodian.

Three minutes later, Pune FC got their third goal. Substitute Haokip, on for Shoaib Syed, dispossessed an opponent down the middle and set on a solo from the halfline. As he approached the goal, the youngster sent a low drive from inside the box beating the keeper to get his name on the scoresheet.

Minutes later, keeper Amrinder kept Churchill at bay as he rushed out to block Odafa’s shot in a one-on-one situation. 

Into the final ten minutes, Pune FC went close again. This time, Haokip set on a solo from the left and found Prakash on the right whose left-footed attempt from the edge of the box sailed over the horizontal.

In the final minute of normal time, Pune FC had a glorious opportunity to get the fourth. However, substitute Eric Brown, on for Sueoka, who was sent through on goal by Haokip, had his attempt from close saved by the keeper. At the other end, Amrinder kept his composure in another one-on-one situation with Odafa to keep the score unchanged.

Despite having a great game in the goal, a combination of misjudgement and miscommunication saw Amrinder receive a second yellow card deep into injury time for time-wasting which left Pune FC down to ten men.

Having made all three substitutions, skipper Arata had to put on the gloves for the final few minutes as Pune FC collected all three points.

Pune FC now play Vasco SC in their second group game on November 4th, 2014.