JCT’s I-League campaign began on a sour note with a shock 0-1 loss to debutants Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) from Bangalore. The solitary strike came from veteran midfielder Xavier Vijay Kumar in the 13th minute.
HAL, the second team in the league from the southern confines along with Viva Kerala, looked comfortable against Durand Cup runners-up JCT from the kick-off.
Malengamba Meitey troubled the JCT back four throughout the first half, making numerous inroads down the left flank to combine well with big Nigerian forward Jagaba Amaba.
Omalaja Kareem, however, was at his best for the Phagwara side, curbing Amaba’s poaching instinct while breaking down the stellar passing game that coach R. Thygaraj’s HAL put on display in the final third.
That Kumar opened the scoring was no surprise. The midfielder had been holding possession and most of HAL’s attacks were routed through him.
A through from James Singh found him in the box and after a quick swivel around defender and captain Daljit Singh, Kumar curled the ball beyond the reach of JCT custodian Pawan Kumar.
JCT stepped up their play at the half-hour mark, with Randeep Singh wresting control of the midfield.
He played a number of telling passes, all of which came to naught primarily due to lackadaisical conversion by Saran Singh and Balwant Singh. Kareem was booked in the 31st minute for a needless tackle on Amaba.
Like their counterparts, Parminder Singh’s men too used the flanks well to trouble the HAL defenders. However, Amandeep Singh and Maninder Singh’s crosses, when delivered, left much to be desired.
Even after the breather, the script remained unchanged. HAL played a tight defensive game, allowing little room for JCT to operate and seemed content to just clear away any threats.
“JCT and we managed to break down their quick passing game, and this is what I think won us the match. “And yes, the team had been practicing hard and it’s a great return for the effort they’ve put in,” beamed Thyagaraj.
“It’s just the start. We’re confident of providing a challenge to Mohun Bagan next.”