It did not look like a tie between a league leader and a bottom-feeder when Salgaocar SC faced youth development side Indian Arrows at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium on Saturday. Although the Goan outfit consolidated their spot at the top with a 3-1 win, the score-line was flattering.
Desmond Bulpin's Arrows, always feisty contenders at home, did most of the pressing against their seasoned opponents and kept Salgaocar custodian Karanjit Singh busy through the torrid afternoon.
Lalrin Dika Ralte, in particular, created chances for Arrows forwards Jeje Lalpekhlua and Manandeep Singh and the trio made regular incursions into the box. Salgaocar were kept in the game by the tireless efforts of Brazilian centre-back and captain Luciano Sabrosa.
Salgaocar took the lead in the 22nd minute, completely against the run of play, through club top-scorer Ryuji Sueoka who broke the offside trap to finish from a lethal through ball supplied by Rocus Lamare. However, the Arrows were handed a golden opportunity to equalize in the 32nd minute. Ralte was fouled needlessly in the box by Salgaocar centre-back Irungbam Meitei after he had already failed to control a pass from the left flank by Lal Rozamma Fenai.
The referee pointed to the spot, and Ralte stepped up to take the spot-kick. He hesitated in the run-up and skied the opportunity, leaving the Delhi team behind at the breather.
The Arrows continued to dictate terms as the second half began but it was Salgaocar who extended their lead in the 62nd minute. A lobbed pass by Lamare was chested down by Sueoka who beat Arrows defender Inderpreet Singh to finish comfortably past goalkeeper Jagroop Singh, taking his tally to 16 goals this season.
Holicharan Narzary had been brought on in the 52nd minute in place of Manandeep and he pulled one back for the Arrows in the 80th minute from a Ralte cross from the left. Salgaocar's right-back Rino Anto misjudged the aerial ball which fell to Narzary outside the box and the 16-year-old smashed it in.
But Cajetan Fernandes quashed a comeback when he struck late in the 89th minute from a Lamare corner with a header which left the Arrows rooted in tenth place with 26 points and just one game left to play. "We were the better side but we didn't convert the many chances and that hurt us," said Bulpin whose side now face the very real threat of relegation.