| Abhishek Yadav heads in Mahindra United’s matchwinner against Haywards at Salt Lake Stadium on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Mahindra United required the experience of India striker Abhishek Yadav to scrape past a dogged Haywards Sporting Club and ensure a passage to the quarter finals of the Tata Federation Cup at Salt Lake Stadium on Monday.
Yadav, a 63rd-minute replacement for Jules Alberto Dias, used his height to perfection in heading home the winner off a James Singh cross from the right in the 76th minute.
Though in the end fortune smiled on Mahindra, it could very well have smiled on Haywards Sporting.
Haywards Sporting did everything but the simple task of disturbing the net. Though the result shows the Goan outfit ended up losers, in the trail of their performance, they left enough indications to suggest that they are here to stay. The National League debutants will be a genuine force to reckon with and may be a hard nut to crack for many an elite outfit when the premier competition begins in November.
“We lost today because of our inexperience. We also missed the service of Nigerian Dudu Omagbemi (who, playing for Salgaocar on lien, gave East Bengal a hard time in an NFL match here last year),” Haywards coach Peter Vales said.
“Haywards fought it out quite well and got a few chances, but could not convert them. On the other hand, we converted one of the chances that fell our way and that made the difference,” said Yadav.
Apart from Yadav’s opportunism, the other player who stood out was Hayward’s Avinash Thapa. A ball player by nature, the former Tata Football Academy graduate tore asunder the rival defence with his sudden turns and hidden runs. The miserable ground conditions as well as Lady Luck’s favourable disposition towards Mahindra United stood in the way of him helping his team script a upset win.
“We tried our best and could not finish. Very disappointing, indeed,” Thapa said.
Soon after it started, the match was lost in the muddle in the middle. Sometimes the show on offer looked so insipid and lacklustre, it actually matched the pathetic pitch.
The general pattern of the play, however, took a sudden detour in the closing stages of the first half. Mahindra United were really lucky not to have conceded a goal as it was only the wooden frame that came to their rescue on a couple of occasions at that time.
Holding on to a loose ball in the 32nd minute, Thapa, a city lad, saw goalkeeper Sunder Rajan out of his line. The diminutive medio quickly unleashed a brilliant chip from about 25 yards, which brushed Rajan’s fingertips before striking the horizontal bar.
Within two minutes, Mahindra survived another close call and Thapa was again in the thick of action. The 19-year-old’s header off a right-wing cross ricocheted off the cross bar and then Covan Lawrence stood in the way of Alvito Rodrigues’ attempt on the return ball.
Then at the stroke of halftime, S. Venkatesh made a hash of what turned out to Mahindra United’s first clear chance in the match.
Mahindra United: Sunder Rajan; Odartey Lawson, Arun Malhotra, Covan Lawrence (Jinto Joes), Sanjay Parte; Rauf Kahn, Khalid Jamil, James Singh, S. Venkatesh; Jules Alberto Dias (Abhishek Yadav, 63), Raphael Patron Akakpo (Mongba Aby Samson, 87).
Haywards Sporting: Felix D’Souza; Akshay Das, Ajay Diwadkar, Velancio Gonsalves, Nureni Ayodeji; Kamal Suliman (Sandeep Colaco, 69), Avinash Thapa, Bibiano fernandes, Joseph Pereira; Amaechi Tochukwu, Alvito Rodrigues (Ghanambam Jotin Singh, 82).
Referee: L. Gakulananda Sharma (Manipur).