Machhindra come from behind to reclaim top spot; Three Star thrash SaraswotiTwo second-half goals save Machhindra blushes against relegation-threatened Armed Police Force; season’s first hat-trick from Sanjog Rai sees Three Star humble Saraswoti 4-0.
Machhindra came from behind to reclaim the top spot in the Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division League with a 2-1 win over Armed Police Force, while four second-half goals including the season's first hat-trick from Sanjog Rai helped Three Star thrash bottom-placed Saraswoti 4-0 on Saturday.
Armed Police Force took a lead late in the first half through a Ramesh Dangal header after hitting the bar in the 43rd minute. The departmental team, however, could not protect their lead and conceded three minutes into the second half as Bishal Rai (B) headed home a Ranjit Dhimal's corner to bring the contenders at level terms.
As a see-saw battle raged, both sides had their opportunities but Machhindra were the side to be probing more on the opposition territory. They were awarded a penalty after APF captain Top Bahadur Bista brought down Machhindra defender Peter Segun in the 76th minute.
Following a brief argument between departmental team players and the referee, Dhimal's initial effort from the spot was saved by APF 'keeper Raju Yogi. But the Machhindra set-piece specialist made no mistake in the rebound, sending the ball to the left corner while Yogi had just dived to his right for a 2-1 win.
The result means Machhindra find themselves two points clear of Tribhuvan Army (20) who have dropped to second. Defending champions Manang Marshyangdi Club are third with 19 points. Both Manang and Army have a game in hand.
Rajendra Tamang, the Armed Police Force coach, lauded his team's performance despite the defeat, "We played well in the first half, and even had the lead. We conceded early in the second half because of a defensive error."
Machhindra coach Prabesh Katuwal was elated with his team's comeback victory. "It was a must-win match for us as we want to win the title, while APF have their own issues down in the standings," he said.
"We played to our plan in the second half and the mentality of the team shows why we deserved to win,” Katuwal said, while pondering about their next games. “All three remaining matches are going to be very difficult."
Earlier, Rai completed a hattrick after Lam Rammavra's opener helping Three Star Club to a 4-0 win over Saraswoti that cemented their top-six position.
Four-time champions Three Star wasted several opportunities in the first half before finally breaking the deadlock three minutes into the second half through Lal Rammavra. The Indian forward punished Saraswoti for a defensive error from Barsat Gurung to score past custodian Pradeep Bhandari from a close range.
It was Three Star all the way thereafter as Rai scored a 14-minute hat-trick, the first of the season. Rai initially doubled Three Star's lead in the 57th minute after converting a Susaan Shrestha assist from inside the area and extended their cushion to three goals three minutes later. After collecting a pass from Sushil Rai, he drilled his left-footed effort from 18 yards past custodian Bhandari.
Rai completed his hat-trick in the 71st minute as Bhandari failed to negotiate a cross from Ashok Khawas into the area.
Saraswoti coach Pradip Nepal pointed to defensive errors for his team's crushing defeat. "Despite playing to our strategy in the first half where we were able to deny any chances to Three Star, two mistakes led to two goals which put our players under pressure," he said.
"Conceding goals in such a manner wasn't good for the morale of the boys," said Nepal while adding, "We have three more matches to play, they are very important for us." Saraswoti find themselves at the bottom with four points from 10 matches. "I think the champions and the team to be relegated would be decided in the final round."
Megh Raj KC, Three Star coach, accepted that his team were under no pressure heading into the clash against Saraswoti but said they had anxious moments as they failed to convert chances in the first half.
"We had seven clear goal-scoring opportunities in the opening half, but could not find the back of the net. It was beginning to bother us and the boys," he said. "But the team came up with an improved performance in the second half and we made the most of our chances."
KC has conceded that his team is already out of the title contention. "We know that we are a young side and cannot match the top three teams this season. Our aim is to do as good as we can. If we continue to play like today, we might do better than our target”, KC added.
Himalayan Sherpa vs Sankata 1200 NST
Nepal Police vs Tribhuvan Army 1500 NST
Venue: Dashrath Stadium