| Churchill defender Pio Rodriguez (airborne) hooks the ball away from TFA’s Malswama during their IFA Shield semi-final at the Salt Lake Stadium Sunday
Calcutta: If Churchill Brothers thought their passage to the IFA Shield final would be easy, considering they had the boys from the Tata Football Academy (TFA) to contend with, they were in for a big surprise. The National League title contenders did manage to advance Sunday, but only after quite a struggle.
After levelling the score twice, the TFA boys forced Churchill into a tight corner for the better part of the second half, but could not come back after conceding a third in the 71st minute. Before that, it was an even contest, with the Academy students often enjoying the upper-hand and they can’t be blamed for thinking they were denied a genuine goal because of an off-side.
Kasif Jamal capitalised on a silly defensive lapse to put Churchill ahead in the fourth minute before Bhola Prasad restored parity in the 22nd. Yusif Yakubu converted a penalty ten minutes later but Debabrata Roy brought TFA back in similar fashion minutes into the second half. Ratan Singh finally took the wind out of TFA with a smart right-footer from about 15 yards out.
Having secured an early lead, Churchill might have taken it a bit easy, but the hardworking Prasadstunned them by ramming in a rather innocuous looking centre from the right. It was a powerful right-footed blast from the Dhakuria medio, which gave ’keeper Edward Ansah no time to react.
The wily Yakubu kept Churchill in the hunt. He was operating from a withdrawn position, different from his usual centre-forward role, and one of his many cunning through balls found Kanta Singh free inside the box. Goalkeeper Subrata Pal was foxed by the first touch of the aggressor and his attempt to thwart the move was visibly vigorous enough for the referee to point to the dreaded spot. Yakubu did the needful even with the ’keeper anticipating the direction.
Things changed completely in the second half as TFA started pressing hard and their efforts paid offwhen Denzie Ferrao’s challenge on Sumeet Thapa prompted the referee to award another penalty. Unlike the previous spot-kick, Roy gave the ’keeper no chance.
This caused a radical shift in the course of action, and for nearly 20 minutes, it was TFA dictating terms. Malswama’s neat deflection off a minus from an overlapping Gour Mangi was controversially disallowed, but Prasad and C. Chitrasen patrolled the midfield manfully .
Yakubu, however, came back into the thick of things once again. He was comfortably placed to slot the ball in after latching onto a deep through before being expertly tackled in the nick of time by Subhash Mondal. But the loose ball went to an unmarked Ratan, who wasted no time in shooting home a high first-timer.
For TFA, goalkeeper Pal had a fine match — some reflex action saves from close range standing out — as did Malswama apart from Prasad and Chitrasen. Churchill were well served by the imaginative Yakubu and a more or less steady Noel Wilson in the backline.
CHURCHILL BROTHERS: Edward Ansah; Denzie Ferrao, Pio Rodriguez, Noel Wilson, Rajesh Meetei; Roque Barreto, Aqueel Ansari (Tiken Singh, 61), Zaheer Abbas, Kanta Singh (Ratan Singh, 51); Kasif Jamal, Yusif Yakubu.
TFA: Subrata Pal; Subhash Mondal, Gurpreet Singh, Gour Mangi, Debabrata Roy; C. Chitrasen, Bhola Prasad, Naoba Singh (Praveen Rawat, 46), Sumeet Thapa; Vanlal Rova, Malswama.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.