AIFF Media Team
BHUBANESWAR: The second day of the 76th National Football Championships for the Hero Santosh Trophy saw the opening fixtures played out in Group B, with Services and Manipur and Services registering big wins and heavyweights West Bengal held to a thrilling draw by Delhi. While braces have been the norm in the tournament so far, N Naocha Singh scored the first hat-trick of the tournament in Manipur’s demolition of Railways.
Delhi hold Bengal to decisive draw
Delhi 2 (Neeraj Bhandari 8’ Gaurav Rawat 72’) drew with West Bengal 2 (Naro Hari Shrestha 50’, 61’)
In what was the blockbuster clash of the day, last year’s finalists West Bengal were the heavy favourites against Delhi in the opening game of the day. Within minutes though, that myth was shattered. Bengal were undone by a simple corner in the 7th minute, as Neeraj Bhandari headed in Delhi’s opener.
But with Delhi’s joy came immediate despair. The defender sustained a head injury in the process of scoring the goal, and was immediately substituted. His absence was a huge blow to coach Mohammad Sabir, who made no bones in saying so in the aftermath of the game. Having taken the lead, Delhi went on the offensive, taking advantage of a Bengal side who were shell shocked at what was happening around them. Mohit Mittal and Jaideep SIngh missed two glorious opportunities to double Delhi’s lead, the former guilty of volleying over from five yards when the net might have been an easier target.
Whether it was coach Biswajit Bhattacharya’s halftime dressing down, or just general self-awareness, Bengal came out much better in the second half, not just keen to equalise but also dominate the game. Within five minutes of the restart Naro Hari Shrestha netted the equaliser, tapping in from close range after escaping a napping Delhi defence. Eleven minutes later, he scored another, this time taking the scraps off a rebound from a save. His screaming celebration was a clear indication of how frustrated and under pressure Bengal had been.
Despite having conceded two quick goals, Delhi never let their heads drop, and stayed focussed on doing what they were doing well in the first period. Playing off the counter, they started creating more from the wings, and in the 72nd minute, Gaurav Rawat headed in a cross from the right to spark furious celebrations on the bench. They missed a couple more chances right at the end to sneak away with a win. In the end, a draw was deserved.
Speaking after the game, coach Biswajit Bhattacharya expressed disappointment at the performance, if not the result itself. “It was a very haphazard performance,” he said, “we played well in some periods of the game, but otherwise not. I put it down to first game nerves, but there is a lot to improve.”
Bengal have made three of the last four finals in the Hero Santosh Trophy and Bhattacharya was also keen to stress that the added incentive of the semis and final being held abroad must not be missed. “It shows great initiative by the Federation and the President, to arrange for this to happen,” Bhattacharya said. “A lot of these boys have only turned out for their states, and haven’t had a taste of much bigger stadiums, environments and places. It is a huge motivator. There’s no doubt about it. And who knows, when they play there maybe they will be scouted by some clubs there, if they perform well of course.”
Manipur lay second half onslaught on Railways
Manipur 4 (Naocha Singh, 56’, 69’, 73’, Yami Longvah 90’+2’) beat Railways 1 (R Ramakrishnan 72’)
Riding on a Naocha Singh hat-trick, the first of the Hero Santosh Trophy Final Round, Manipur’s brilliant second half performance subjected Railways to a heavy defeat in their tournament opener.
A flaccid and goalless first half saw Manipur dominate the game, clinical finishing letting them down on more than one occasion. It all changed within minutes of the second though, when Pangabam Naoba Meitei turned into space on the right flank and cut a perfect cross for Naocha to tap into goal from five yards. The floodgates had seemingly opened.
Naocha added a second in the 69th minute, scoring into an empty net after Subhash Singh’s shot had bounced off the post. Despite Railways’ 72nd minute goal, there was never any threat of a comeback, Naocha getting his hat trick and Longvah adding the cherry on top of a brilliant performance that took them to the top of the group.
Clinical Services down Meghalaya
Meghalaya 0 Lost to Services 2 (B Sunil 28’, Moirangthem Ronaldo Singh 45’ + 1’)
A clinical and effective first half display saw Services down Meghalaya 2-0 in the evening game at the Capital Football Arena. B Sunil scored the opening goal of the game in the 28th minute, before Ronaldo Singh added a second in first half injury time. It was enough for them to hold Meghalaya down in the second half and take the three points.