Air India produced a solid display but unfortunately ended up losing 2-3 as they failed to capitalise on the chances that came their way and also a disallowed goal, in the I-League match against defending champions Churchill Brothers at the Cooperage ground on Sunday.
The match started on a rousing note with both teams going on the offensive from the outset. Several attempts were made by both sides in the first two minutes before Air India striker Dada Nabeel nodded home Ravinder Singh's flag-kick from the left in the fourth minute.
The Goans, stung by that early setback, regrouped and started to put pressure on the rival goal. They managed to restore parity through Nigerian Ogba Kalu Nanan in the 32nd minute. Wing-back Naoba Singh made a good run on the right before sending a swerving cross to Kalu who, in a flash, dispatched the ball into the net.
Six minutes later, Kalu, with another effort, put the Goans ahead when he unleashed a powerful drive from the edged of the area, which left Air India goalkeeper Arnab Das Sharma rooted to the ground. Air India did not take too long to draw parity as Nigerian ND Opara made the most of a defensive lapse to tap home Ravinder's flag-kick from the right.
Soon, Churchill's second-choice goalkeeper Lalith Thapa fumbled with a high collection and, under pressure from Air India striker Soccor Velho, let the ball slip through and roll into the goal. But assistant referee AK Sasai Kumar — who had messed up in the match between Air India and Mumbai FC earlier this week — surprisingly raised the flag, signalling an infringement.
The disallowed goal had a demoralising effect on Air India, as it would have given them an upper hand. Churchill managed to take the lead through their captain Odafe Okolie in the 86th.
Air India coach Bimal Ghosh was unhappy with the officials. “I can't understand how that goal was disallowed. If that goal was disallowed then no goal in the world stands,” he said. “The referee must be punished for that.”