I-League: Real Kashmir play out 1-1 draw with Churchill, remain in title hunt
Vasco (Goa), Jan 31:Real Kashmir FC played out a 1-1 draw with Churchill Brothers in their 15th round I-League match as both sides missed out on a chance to go to the top of points table here Thursday. Farhan Ganie put the visitors in the lead in the 55th minute but the league’s top scorer Willis Plaza — with 16 strikes so far — got the equaliser in the 69th minute for the home side. A win for either side would have taken them on top but after the draw and the resultant one point apiece, both remain where they were at the beginning of the game — in second and third spots respectively with 29 points each from 15 matches. Churchill are ahead by virtue of a better goal difference. Chennai City FC, whom Real Kashmir had beaten twice this season, are leading the table with 30 points from 14 matches. Thursday’s draw, however, extended Real Kashmir’s unbeaten run to 11 matches. The first leg match had also ended in a draw (0-0) in Srinagar in November last year. A total of 20 matches will be played by each team. Churchill had more of the ball possession and the visitors clearly missed the physical presence of suspended Ivorian striker Gnohre Krizo, who had scored Real Kashmir’s lone goal in the 1-0 win over leaders Chennai City FC on January 28 in Srinagar. Krizo picked up his second yellow card booking in the match against Chennai City FC. Churchill’s Romanian coach Petre Gigiu made three changes to his starting line-up, playing Khalid Aucho, Richard Costa and Wayne Vaz in place of Israil Gurung, Nickson Castanha and Nenad Novakovic. Real Kashmir’s Scottish coach David Robertson made just the one change, replacing the suspended Krizo with Ritwik Kumar Das. After a scrappy 20 minutes, David’s son Mason Robertson had the first clear look at goal when Farhan Ganie found him in an advantageous position inside the box with a lovely long ball floated across from just inside the Churchill half. But Mason’s volley was weak and lacked placement and was collected comfortably by James Kithan at the Churchill goal. Then in the 39th minute, Mason squared to Ritwik who unleashed a shot from just outside the Churchill box but Kithan again had it under control. The home side did make a couple of forays into their rivals’ box, most of them inspired by their mercurial left-footed captain Dawda Cessay of Gambia, but the league debutant’s defence stood resolute as they have throughout the season. Plaza did not even get one clear sight at goal as the teams went into half-time goalless. Churchill seemed to have shed their cautious approach at the beginning of the second half and pressed hard. But, it was Real Kashmir who took the lead through Farhan in the 55th minute, when his long-range grounder from outside the Churchill box on the second attempt, beat a maze of legs and probably blinded Kithan, before finding the back the net. The home team was jolted by the goal but Plaza got them back in the 69th minute with his 16th strike of the league. It was Dawda Cessay’s corner which was initially cleared by the Real Kashmir defence, but only till substitute Nicholas Fernandes found Plaza inside the box from the left flank with a fine cross. The Trinidadian Plaza, who had gotten away from his marker, trapped and controlled well, before firing in a left-footer past Bilal in the Real Kashmir goal. Plaza was adjudged Hero of the Match for the umpteenth time this season.