ISL 2023-24: Mumbai City FC overcome Punjab FC 3-2 to qualify for Playoffs

Iker Guarrotxena struck a double late in the match as Mumbai City FC joined league leaders Odisha FC at the top spot with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the high-flying Punjab FC in the Indian Super League

New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) Iker Guarrotxena struck a double late in the match as Mumbai City FC joined league leaders Odisha FC at the top spot with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the high-flying Punjab FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.

Despite both teams having 35 points each, Odisha FC (+15) hold the edge against the Islanders (+14) in the standings due to a slightly better goal difference currently as Mumbai City FC continued their pursuit of their defence of the league shield. Guarrotxena scored in the 53rd and 64th minutes after Punjab FC had taken the lead via Wilmar Jordan Gil in the 39th minute after Madih Talal (37th minute) had neutralized Lallianzuala Chhangte’s goal in the 16th minute.

The reverse fixture between Mumbai City FC and Punjab FC was a gripping 2-1 affair where the latter had blown away a one-goal lead to lose all three points back in the City of Dreams.

This evening was a repeat of the same, with the duo of Madih Talal and Wilmar Jordan Gill striking once each within two minutes to help the ISL debutants head into the halfway mark of the match with a slender 2-1 lead.

However, the Islanders answered with their January transfer market recruit and former FC Goa talisman Guarrotxena bagging a brace in the second session of the match to notch their 10th victory of this ISL season.

Starting the proceedings in the 16th minute was Bipin Singh, who made his 100th appearance for Mumbai City FC in the match, becoming the first-ever Indian player to do so for the Islanders.

As the Islanders pierced through the Punjab FC defence with some serious pace, Bipin unleashed an effort that the opposition goalkeeper Ravi Kumar blocked, but the rebound led to Lallianzuala Chhangte who netted it past the home team custodian with extreme ease.

Tables turned 20 minutes later though, with Punjab FC matching the Mumbai City FC offence toe-to-toe. French playmaker Talal was at the centre of it all, yet again, dazzling the duo of Rahul Bheke and Mehtab Singh with his crafty footwork before testing his luck at goal from the left corner of the 18-yard-box. His effort beat the dive of Phurba Lachenpa, who had worked hard to keep Punjab FC at bay till then.

The goalkeeper’s resistance was soon coming to an end, with Talal drilling inside the Mumbai City FC backline and chipping in a short distance cross for Wilmar Jordan Gil on the far post on the right side. Gil had to merely nod the ball inside the net in the 39th minute to secure his fourth goal of the ISL 2023-24 campaign.

The Islanders emerged as a potent force in the second half though, maintaining the upper hand in the proceedings, primarily spearheaded by the individual brilliance of Guarrotxena. Eight minutes into the second half, the dynamic striker took matters upon his own hands to charge right through the centre of the Punjab FC box, taking their entire backline aback. Suresh Meitei managed a hasty clearance, but the ball scrapped back to Guarrotxena, who slotted it past Ravi to catch hold of the equaliser.

With three wins in their last four matches before this one, Punjab FC was in no mood to take this lying down. They began opening up, testing their luck upfront, but it also left them exposed on the counter in the back. 11 minutes after the equaliser, central midfielder Jayesh Rane carved open the Punjab FC defence with a through ball that was directed to Guarrotxena. The Spaniard produced a finish straight out of the textbook, sealing the win and keeping his team’s hopes of retaining the ISL League Winners Shield title upbeat.

Punjab FC and Mumbai City FC will play their next fixtures against NorthEast United FC and Jamshedpur FC on March 7 and March 8 respectively.

–IANS/bsk/

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