Gokulam Kerala will be one of the sides to watch out for in this edition of I-League as Bino George has been able to bring together a rich motley of Indian talent. If Rajesh S stole the show against Mohun Bagan, it was definitely Pritam Singh who hogged the spotlight when they took on NEROCA earlier this week.
It seemed that Pritam had stepped on to the pitch to prove a point against his former employers. Although he operated primarily from the right flank, he also had the license to roam freely in the attacking third. It was only the second minute of the match when he was almost through on goal and if it was not for Eduardo Ferreira's last-ditch tackle, the Manipuri would have at least tested Mauro Boerchio under the sticks.
The Manipuri winger made the best use of his pace and well-built physique as he gave a tough time to NEROCA left-back Denechandram Meitei. In one of the many instances, Pritam had shown a clean pair of heels to Meitei and the defender had to use his elbow to stop him from cutting back a pass which could have resulted in a penalty for Gokulam.
He was the principal architect behind Gokulam Kerala's opener as he produced a peach of a through ball to find Baoringdao Bodo, who in turn made no mistake to find the net just before the half-time whistle. It was an example of exceptional vision which helped him split open NEROCA's defence to set up Bodo from midfield.
NEROCA's fullback Malemnganba Meitei was another player who had a good day at the office as he poured in inch-perfect crosses inside the six-yard box but to his ill-fortune, his team-mates could not do justice to his efforts. In spite of surging forward at every opportunity, the defender was rarely caught out of his position even as Rajesh and Pritam swapped flanks in tandem to further complicate matters.
Meanwhile, it was another composed display by East Bengal to win three points away from home against Lajong but their defence was put to test by Samuel Lalmuanpuia with his exquisite set-pieces and combination play with Mahesh Singh up front. Samuel was brilliant with the ball and his quick exchanges with Mahesh helped Lajong bypass the jungle of legs at the centre of the park.
The Lajong skipper was once again at his brilliant best when it came to delivering set-pieces. He scored twice from dead-ball situations during East Bengal's last visit to Shillong and this time he kept Rakshit Dagar on his toes everytime he was gearing up to take a corner or a free-kick. If Samuel Lyngdoh had not missed the easiest of chances after Dagar could only manage to get a feeble touch to a vicious Lalmuanpuia free-kick in the initial minutes of the second-half, Lajong could have at least got something from the match.
Lajong's consolation goal also came off a corner floated in by Lalmuanpuia in the near post. He placed his delivery intelligently beyond the reach of both East Bengal centre-backs which saw Rakesh Pradhan make a darting run towards the first post before heading it into the net.
East Bengal showed that it does not matter who has the ball but what you do with it as in spite of getting outplayed in midfield, they were able to score three goals with Jobby Justin bagging the opening two. Justin was one of the players who had minimum touches on the ball but made the best use of the limited chances he managed to get. It was a typical poacher's performance from the Keralite as both his goals were brilliant examples of clinical finishing.
His first goal was a textbook header as he timed his leap to perfection to nod Lalrindika Ralte's delivery from a free-kick beyond the reach of the goalkeeper. His marker Novin Gurung had no chance even to unsettle him as the defender was late to react.
During the second goal, he remained calm and after a brilliant exchange of passes with fellow striker Enrique Esqueda, the 22-year-old wrapped his laces around the ball to send it past Neithovilie Chalieu. Aibanbha Dohling was at fault as he left Justin completely unmarked.
Justin has shown glimpses of brilliance in the past but has not shown consistency. He was not up to the mark against NEROCA but came back strongly in the next game. Now it remains to be seen for how long can the forward carry on with his rich vein of form in this season.
Last but not the least, David Lalrinmuana cameo after coming on from the bench rescued a point for Aizawl FC against Mohun Bagan. The Bagan academy graduate scored from an exquisite free-kick from 30 yards out which curled to beat Sankar Roy and nestle into the top corner. This goal handed Gift Raikhan a lifeline after bowing down to Shillong Lajong in their campaign opener.