Machhindra, Army risk missing out on AFC CupThe champions settle for a 0-0 draw against Sankata while the departmental team relinquish early lead to share spoils against Satdobato.
Champions Machhindra Club and title contenders Tribhuvan Army FC were both held to draws in their fifth round matches as they missed opportunities to strengthen their position for the AFC Cup and boost their title challenge in the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League at the Dasharath Stadium on Friday.
In the late fixture, star-studded leaders Machhindra were held to a goalless stalemate by Sankata Club while the departmental team failed to maintain their early lead to settle for a 1-1 draw against newcomers Satdobato Youth Club.
The outcome gave a huge blow to Machhindra’s ambition of featuring in the AFC Cup, the inter-country club championship, as the leading side after seventh round would be eligible to compete in the event.
Machhindra lead the standings with 11 points after five matches and hold a one point advantage over second placed Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC). Army and Sankata are joint third on nine points and Satdobato fifth with eight points after five matches each. But second placed MMC have a match advantage over them and could open two points lead on top if they defeated Nepal Police Club at the Pokhara Stadium on Saturday.
Machhindra and MMC will vie in the sixth round. The seventh round of action will see MMC taking on Brigade Boys Club and Machhindra jousting against Police.
Machhindra coach Prabesh Katuwal said that his side failed to play to expectations. “It was a vital clash for us and we had no other option than win. But the boys could not play to expectations,” said Katuwal. “Now the match against the MMC in the next round could be decisive in determining our fate for the AFC Cup.”
Playing in the absence of regular skipper Sujal Shrestha due to calf injury, Machhindra failed to live up to star billing. They created only a couple of attractive chances and never looked like deserving winners in the second half.
They tested Sankata goalie Raju Babu Thapa in the 22nd minute when he parried Nepali international winger Sunil Bal’s corner and the ball fell in the way of Bishal Rai. But the national team midfielder ended up shooting far wide.
Sankata replied in the first half stoppage time but defender Niraj Basnet headed off the target in Laxman Ruchal’s corner. Machhindra had a goal ruled as offside during the stroke of an hour.
Sankata piled consistent pressure in the late second half with their forward Fode Fofana emerging as a constant threat. The Guinean shot inches above the bar in the 83rd and he created their best chance four minutes later when he supplied a pin-point cross to unmarked Uttam Rai. But Rai squandered a scoring opportunity as he headed above the bar from the area to eventually share points.
Machhindra coach Bishnu Gurung was happy with the draw. “We performed really well and were better than the opponents in both halves. The boys have been improving after every match,” said Gurung.
In the day’s another kickoff, the departmental giants took an early lead through Dinesh Henjan but the joy was short lived as Nigerian striker Ajayi Martins restored the parity.
The evenly contested affair saw Army, playing in the absence of strikers duo Bharat Khawas and Nawayug Shrestha, take a 10th minute lead through Henjan. The midfielder quickly pounced in Tek Bahadur Budhathoki's left flank cross from the area after stand-in-captain George Prince Karki set a short pass. Army's regular captain Khawas missed the match due to a groin injury and is expected to return in the next game while striker Shrestha will be out of action for the entire season due to knee injury.
Satdobato's Nigerian recruit Martins equalised in the 16th after he found a ball released by custodian Abishek Baral and beat the defenders marking with his pace before slamming in from the area.
Army defender Bimal Pandey headed inches wide deep into the first half in a corner released by Santosh Tamang. The departmental team came closer to scoring in the first half stoppage time when striker Karki applied a low ball strike only for goalie Baral to make a diving save.
Satdobato piled pressure in the early second half. Striker Niraj Chaudhary headed Sudip Gurung's pass inches wide while substitute Aditya Shakya's free header in captain Man Bahadur Tamang's cross landed straight at custodian Bikesh Kuthu's grip.
Army replied through Santosh Tamang in the 69th but the midfielder’s strike from the edge of the area sailed inches above bar in a short pass set by Bibek Basnet. The Nepali international midfielder's another one-touch strike also in Gautam Shrestha's pass also missed the target.