Rai double lifts Sankata to third, Army heldThree first-half goals secure Sankata a 3-0 win over Brigade Boys while Three Star pour cold water on Army’s AFC Cup ambition with a 0-0 draw.
A first-half brace from Uttam Rai gave Sankata Club a convincing 3-0 victory over Brigade Boys Club as they climbed third in the Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division League while Tribhuvan Army FC and Three Star Club played to a 0-0 draw at the Dasharath Stadium in Tripureshwar on Tuesday.
Sankata scored all three goals before the interval with veteran Laxman Ruchal adding the third as Bishnu Gurung's side maintained their unbeaten streak to six matches. Army, also an unbeaten side in the league, failed to capitalise on scoring opportunities despite dominating the show and dropped one spot to fourth.
Sankata's third victory meant that the top three teams are separated by one point each after playing equal six matches. While champions and leaders Machhindra Club have 14 points, second placed MMC are on 13 points and Sankata one point behind them.
Army are fourth on 10 points and the outcome also poured cold water on their fading hopes of securing place for AFC Cup as the table toppers after seventh round would be eligible to compete in the inter-country club championship. Army's exit from the AFC Cup race meant only Machhindra and MMC will be the contenders even as they also require AFC Club license.
Unlike Sankata, Brigade are languishing in 10th with five points and are just one point adrift of relegation zone. Three Star, struggling to pull off their second victory in the league after winning their opening game against Chyasal, drew fourth match in a row and are seventh with as many points.
Overwhelmed by their surge in the league standings, Sankata coach Bishnu Gurung said that now they would set their sights on a third-place finish in the league. "There are a lot of areas for improvement in the team. We need to play at a much higher level and improve in the finishing department," Gurung said at the post match conference.
In the day's opening match, Indian forward Rai put Sankata ahead in the 13th minute with a powerful header to turn in Cameroonian forward Jordan Owona's cross. Rai doubled the tally with his second goal of the match and third of the league campaign in the 28th. The forward capitalised on a poor clearance by defender Ramesh Kumar Rajbanshi and sent the ball to the back of the net.
Winger Ruchal widened the gap as Sankata went into the break with a three-goal cushion. He found a poor clearance by Brigade goalie Randip Paudel and put the ball in the open net as goalie Purna Limbu was not in his position.
"The game was not that tough for us because Brigade played in the absence of one of their key players Rudy Mbakop [due to double yellow]," said Sankata coach Gurung.
Brigade coach Sanoj Shrestha said that his side failed to catch the momentum from the beginning. "We conceded early goals and also missed Mbakop," said Shrestha, adding that the team was planning to hire a fourth overseas player under South Asian quota.
In the late fixture, Army midfielder Dinesh Henjan ended up firing above the bar in the early moments. Santosh Tamang's strike from the edge in Jagajeet Shrestha's pass was denied by Three Star's Cameroonian goalie Priso Njanga.
Three Star replied moments later only for forward Ayush Ghalan to shoot off the target from the area. Henjan could have made the breakthrough for Army in the first-half stoppage time had he tried to attempt on goal, but for custodian Njanga in his way. Instead, he tried to pass the ball, providing an opportunity for defender Raphael Rim to clear it.
Deep into the second half, Army winger Tek Bahadur Budhathoki squandered a scoring opportunity as his free header sailed above the bar.
Army coach Nabin Neupane lamented the failure to deliver results at important games. "We could have scored in the first half but failed in the finishing department," said Neupane.
"We could still have an opportunity for the AFC Cup had we won the game. But we are still in the race for the title," he said.
Three Star's coach Urjan Shrestha also pointed out weaknesses in his attacking third. "It was a must win match for both sides. We have flaws in the attacking department and we need to fix that. We are trying to recruit foreigners as forward but it is not that easy. Hopefully we will get one in the next match," said Shrestha.