Nobody would have even remotely imagined that Sporting Clube de Goa would be sitting atop the heap at the end of the first leg in the 2008-09 I-League, which has gone into hiatus and will resume in late January next year.
Last year, the 'Flaming Orange' struggled to avoid relegation and this year the modest club from Panaji began the tournament with just one foreigner in their roster. But the enigmatic Elijah Obagbemiro Junior's seven goals have helped considerably in SCG accumulating 25 points from 11 matches, four ahead of a resurgent Mohun Bagan and five in front of their state-mates, the ever-consistent Churchill Brothers.
How the I-League teams stand
New coach, the former Sesa Goa defender Vishwas Gaonkar, was able to fine-tune the settled squad, pieced together over the years by the long serving Nigerian, Clifford Chukwuma, who was shunted upstairs. While Brazilian Luciano Sabrosa has added steel to the defence, the midfield has been kept ticking by the likes of Bibiano Fernandes, Mickey Fernandes, Joseph Pereira and Harmanjot Khabra.
It helped that SCG, who have led the field uninterrupted from the first round itself, played some relatively easy early matches at home. But, at the same time, they also notched some creditable victories against stalwarts like Mohun Bagan, Dempo and JCT. The defeats against Churchill Brothers and away to East Bengal were the notable aberrations.
The glamour Kolkata clubs were once again plagued by poor starts, the same curse also tripping the advance of champions Dempo (preoccupied with their abortive AFC Cup campaign in the early rounds) and former champions Mahindra United and JCT.
The star-studded 'Red Devils' are languishing in 10th position with 9 points but East Bengal and the Phagwara side are only marginally better off in seventh and eighth position respectively with 12 points apiece. Derrick Pereira (Mahindra United) and Stanley Rozario (East Bengal) will be surely feeling the heat in the hot seat.
The most incredible revival story was however scripted by Mohun Bagan, who won their last six matches on the trot after collecting just three points from their first five outings. Clearly, the Maroon & Green brigade clearly reinstated themselves in the race for the top honours.
Churchill Brothers are also very much in the running, powered once again by the strikes of the iconic Odafa Onyeka Okolie, who leads the scorers table with 11 goals and looks destined to top the tally for the third year running.
Serbian coach Zoran Djordjevic, who took over from Emeka Ezeugo (he was ousted following a player rebellion) just prior to the start of the tournament, has been able to maintain the momentum that the family-owned outfit from Varca was able to generate in their previous season.
And what of Dempo, who are fourth placed with 17 points? Armando Colaco's champion side, which stuttered to three losses and two draws from 10 games, could experience the blues unless they get their act together and their shooters take their chances in full measure when the action resumes.
Newly-promoted Mumbai FC, whose first three upset wins were dissipated by a six-match winless streak (two losses and four draws) later, and Air-India have acquitted themselves creditably so far, perched comfortably in mid-table with 16 points each. But the former have played one game less. The Essel-owned side has swung wildly from inspiration to ineptitude while the airmen have reaped good value from their speedy wingers and set piece expertise.
Promoted Chirag United (12 points and ninth position) are not in dire straits but they will have to pull up their socks to keep their nose ahead of Mahindra United and promoted Mohammedan Sporting (nine points each) in the second leg.
Vasco Sports Club, who occupy the basement with a meagre 5 points, have a mountain to climb and will need a miracle to retain their place in the elite division.