ICYMI: Is it curtains for defending champions ATK?
The past week of the Indian Super League (ISL) saw perhaps the most productive debut by an Indian, the defending champions continue their free fall, and a warning sign that one of the form teams could find it hard to make the playoffs because of their defensive frailties.
Deependra dream debut
Kerala Blasters trailed Delhi Dynamos to a Kalu Uche penalty at half-time, when coach David James decided to punt on 19-year-old Deependra Negi, bringing him on in the second half in place of striker Karan Sawhney, for his first ISL appearance.
Negi, a former India U-17 captain who has also spent a year in Spain's Segunda Division as part of the CF Reus squad, scored with his very first touch inside two minutes, getting to the ball quicker than Uche off a Kerala set-piece to stab home the equaliser. He would later be tripped just inside the penalty area, and Iain Hume converted to give the home side three valuable points.
Are the champions in freefall?
ATK changed managers just ahead of the first of their two games in the past week, with technical director Ashley Westwood taking over from Teddy Sheringham. They began well enough against 2015 champions Chennaiyin, with a first-half goal for new Northern Ireland international striker Martin Paterson, but some sloppy defending allowed the visitors to nick the game 2-1.
The second goal just summed up the lack of clarity in ATK's defence, with goalkeeper Debjit Majumder effecting a half-save, but in the process plonking the ball into an onrushing Jeje Lalpekhlua, whose momentum took the ball into the net. The untidy defending continued into Sunday's game against Jamshedpur, who won with a second-half penalty conversion.
ATK have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, but they currently trail FC Goa in fourth by seven points, with just six games left to play.
Chhetri and a touch of class
When Bengaluru FC met NorthEast United FC at home, Avram Grant made the visiting side difficult to break down, and they seemed on the verge of something special when they brought the scores level at 1-1 late in the first half.
In the second half, Bengaluru created just one clear-cut chance, because of a couple of fortuitous deflections off the NorthEast defence, when right-back Harmanjot Khabra sent in a ball looking for Chhetri at the far post.
That's all it took, as the Bengaluru and India captain found the narrowest of gaps across the face of TP Rehenesh's goal with his first touch. At 33, Chhetri works as hard off the field at maintaining his fitness as he did when starting out as a prodigious teenager, and it shows on the pitch.
The race for fourth hots up in Margao
The early kick-off in Margao saw the second 4-3 result of the season featuring hosts FC Goa, except unlike their match with Bengaluru, this time they lost to Mumbai City FC and also were the team to see a player sent off.
Coro took his season tally to 12 goals -- his second goal was a masterful dink over an advancing Amrinder Singh -- but Mumbai reaped the rewards of coming at Goa from the flanks repeatedly and exposing their chinks in defence.
Goa continue to lead the scoring charts with 27 goals, but their 21 conceded in 11 games is only better than last-placed Delhi Dynamos (29). Goa are precariously perched at fourth, with Jamshedpur, Mumbai and Kerala all level or two points behind, and a team that intends to play for the championship should be worried about conceding nearly two goals per game. It could still see them sneak into the top four, but one bad day at the playoffs and Goa's title aspirations could be over.