Gurung’s stunning volley seals playoff for DhangadhiThe 1-0 victory over Pokhara Thunders lifts national skipper Kiran Kumar Limbu’s side three points clear atop the standings of Nepal Super League.
A solitary goal from substitute Darshan Gurung helped Dhangadhi FC seal a 1-0 victory over Pokhara Thunders and secure playoff berths in the Nepal Super League football tournament standings on Wednesday.
Gurung, who replaced tournament’s top scorer Oladipo Olawale Afeez after the Nigerian suffered a hamstring injury in the 36th minute, proved he was an ideal substitution at the Dasharath Stadium. The forward fired home a stunning volley midway into the second half as Dhangadhi, unbeaten in the last-four matches, became the first team to confirm a playoff spot. Only the top four teams are guaranteed a playoff place.
The outcome lifts national captain Kiran Kumar Limbu-led Dhangadhi on top with 10 points from five matches, three points clear of the second placed Biratnagar City FC and the third placed Kathmandu Rayzrs FC. Kathmandu and Biratnagar, scheduled to vie on Thursday, have a match advantage over the leaders.
Pokhara are fifth with five points with only one match left before the league round wraps up. They now not only need to win their last group match against Chitwan to ignite their playoff hopes but also be blessed with favourable outcomes from other matches.
“It was a tough game and the players are at risk of injury due to the congested fixtures,” Dhangadhi’s coach Fuja Tope said. “After we lost our opening match, we were determined not to lose other matches. We performed as per the match plan and were successful,” said the Nigerian, adding that Afeez’s injury looked serious and his whereabouts would be known only after further assessment.
Pokhara looked a better side and dominated the possession but lacked the cutting edge. They have scored only one goal in the tournament so far.
Dhangadhi failed to impress in the first half and could create only one chance before the break. Their only attempt came in the 22nd minute when forward Afeez’s strike from the crowded box sailed above the bar following a deflection at Pokhara defence.
Pokhara came closer to scoring in the 26th after Cameroonian forward Moussa Abba collected a short pass from Ayush Ghalan inside the area and tactfully beat opponent defenders with a quick sprint before applying a scorcher from close range only for goalie Kiran Limbu to block the low ball. Dhangadhi midfielder Rupesh KC collected the rebound but was dispossessed by Ravi Paswan and the midfielder ended up shooting wide.
Dhangadhi were dealt with a hammer blow in the 31st minute after Afeez, the tournament’s highest scorer with four goals under his belt, was stretchered off following the injury.
Two minutes after the break, Pokhara winger Paswan fired straight at custodian Limbu after dispossessing the ball from Rupesh KC.
But Gurung proved he was the ideal replacement for Afeez as he broke the deadlock against the run of play in the 68thwith a thrilling finish. His 25-yard volley found the back of the net, leaving goalie Deep Karki stunned. Moments earlier, Gurung’s close range shot had fallen straight into the hands of custodian Karki in Bishal Rai through pass with only the shot stopper as his obstacle.
Veteran forward Anil Gurung, who replaced Nitin Thapa in the 67th minute, headed Man Bahadur Tamang’s cross three minutes after his entry only for goalie Limbu to grab it without difficulty. Four minutes later Gurung's close range shot deflected at the opponent defender to fly above the bar.
Dhangadhi survived scare two minutes into the stoppage time, forcing custodian Limbu to make a finger-tip save to deny Nawayug Shrestha’s header in Raphael Rimgago long pass.
Dhangadhi’s goalie Limbu was adjudged super player while his teammate and defender Ashok Khawas was named emerging player. Limbu was rewarded with Rs25,000 and Khawas Rs10,000.
Pokhara assistant coach Rajesh Shahi said that his side failed to live up to the expectations. “We again had problems in the scoring department as in our previous fixtures. The forwards lacked patience in opponents’ attacking zone. Neither Nawayug nor our overseas players played to their potential,” said Shahi.
In Thursday’s early kick-off, Lalitpur City FC will meet Butwal Lumbini FC.