Top sides Machhindra, Manang triumphAn own goal gifts the champions a 1-0 win over Friends while Olawale hat-trick inspires MMC to a 5-0 rout of Chyasal.
Leaders Machhindra Club and second placed Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) both registered victories over relegation strugglers in their eight round fixtures of the Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division League on Saturday.
Machhindra, also the defending champions, were made to fight for a 1-0 victory over bottom placed Friends Club courtesy of an own goal from Trinidadian defender Ronell Anthony Paul at the Dasharath Stadium. The record eight times champions MMC stormed to a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Chyasal Youth Club riding on a hat-trick of Nigerian forward Olawale Afeez at the Pokhara Stadium.
The victories of the top two sides meant they are separated by just one point with five matches to play before the league wraps up. Star studded Machhindra have 20 points and MMC, who faced their only defeat to the leaders, have 19 points after playing equal eight matches.
Unlike them, Friends, yet to taste victory, hit the bottom of the standings with three points and Chyasal are above them with five points. Both of them are struggling to avoid relegation in the premier division league of the country, which sees bottom two sides dropped to second division at the completion of the event.
Friends coach Mrigendra Mishra, however, was adamant that his side would avoid relegation. "We had played with a winning ambition today, but conceded due to our own shortcomings," said Mishra. "We are yet to play five more matches and I am confident we will avoid relegation. I hope we won't be misfortunate in all matches. We must win three among five games."
Mishra also criticised the referee for overlooking foul on new players. "The referees have been awarding fouls even for a slight contact to established players but they hesitate to do the same even for bad tackles on new players," he said.
Despite boasting the attacking talents of captain Sujal Shrestha, Sunil Bal, Manish Dangi, Bimal Gharti Magar and Abhishek Rijal and foreign recruit Norlan Novruzov, Machhindra failed at the scoring department.
In the early first half, Machhindra squandered an early scoring opportunity as forward Abhishek Rijal headed above the bar in Sunil Bal's corner. Machhindra defender Tshering Gurung ended up firing inches wide after he found a poor clearance by Friends defenders.
Friends threatened at Machhindra post in the early second half only for glovesman Bishal Shrestha to deny defender Paul's strike.
Machhindra were finally able to get on the scoresheet in the 68th when defender Paul headed at own post while attempting to clear captain Sujal Shrestha's cross that came to his path from teammate Aakash Rai.
Machhindra coach Prabesh Katuwal said he was not contended with the performance despite the win. "I am happy with the three points. But we failed to play to our full potential because we underestimated the opponents. I knew they would come up with a cent percent effort to avoid relegation."
At the Pokhara Stadium, MMC scored three late goals, including twice in the stoppage time to seal the comprehensive victory. Apart from Afeez's hat-trick, second of the league after Satdobato's Ajayi Martins, Nigerian compatriot Oluwawunmi Somide and Dinesh Rajbanshi were on target at their recently adopted home ground.
MMC took an early third minute lead through Somide, who slipped inside the area to tap Afeez's brilliant pass. They doubled the advantage two minutes before the interval as Afeez made a free header from the area to convert Bishow Adhikari's freekick.
Defender Rajbanshi made it 3-0 in the 86th with his third goal of the league as he turned in Rupesh KC's corner from the close range. Chyasal coach Bal Gopal Shaukhala replaced his first choice goalie Pradip Bhandari with Santosh Mahat in the first minute of the five-minute stoppage time and the latter conceded the remaining two goals.
Afeez, a well known name in Nepali football, netted his second individual goal in the third minute of the additional time. He made a slight touch from the close range leaving goalie Mahat motionless in the Bimal Rana pass.
The Nigerian hammered the final nail in the coffin with a spectacular display as he rounded defender Chetan Tharu inside the area and sent the ball between the legs of the goalie to complete his hat-trick.
With his third goal, the forward also climbed atop the highest scorer chart with five in his name along with Sunil Bal of Machhindra.
Henjan header guns down NRT
In the late fixture at the Dasharath Stadium, Dinesh Henjan scored the solitary goal for Tribhuvan Army FC as they edged New Road Team (NRT) 1-0 to move level on Sankata Club in third place.
The midfielder, left unmarked inside the zone, headed the only goal in the 17th minute to convert Jagjeet Shrestha's lofted pass and grab the all important goal.
The victory also snapped Army's run of three draws. They are tied on 14 points with third placed Sankata. NRT are level on 10 points with sixth placed Three Star but the latter have a match advantage over the departmental team.