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Churchill held by Air India

January 06, 2008 19:09 IST

Churchill Brothers' litmus test came on Sunday – to prove that they are not a one-man team in the absence of their prolific goal getter Odafa Okolie who was booked out of their ninth round I-League clash against Air-India at the Cooperage.

The Goans however failed the test, being held to a goalless draw by the airmen. But the Karim Bencherifa-coached white shirted squad showed that they are a team worthy of contending for the prestigious title as they kept Air-India grounded with an overwhelming attacking game.

It was only rival custodian EC Sharath who kept his side in the hunt with a litany of saves to handsomely deserve the man of the match award at the end of regulation time.

Churchill Brothers' title aspirations have been pegged back after Sunday's setback as they still lie in third place with 17 points, four adrift of table toppers Dempo and two behind JCT.

Air-India should consider themselves lucky to salvage a point but they are still in a precarious position having logged only eight. The also occupy the same slot in the points table, only ahead of flop artistes East Bengal (7) and rock bottom Salgaocar (4).

The visitors started in whirlwind fashion mounting a series of early sorties on the Air-India citadel after which they were shackled by Air-India's rough and ready methods.

However, in the second half, they rediscovered their rhythm and launched wave after wave of attacks from both flanks as well as through the middle.

Half back Reisangmi Vashum was in the thick of the action, making several runs down the right flank and peppering the danger area with a plethora of crosses.

However, with Okolie 'missing in action', there was nobody around to translate deliveries into goals.

Churchill Brothers' midfield generals Fabio Vidal and newcomer Ogba Kalu Nnanna were workmanlike rather than inspirational though the African laid a lovely through for substitute Durai Raju in the 65th minute.

But Sharath saved the day with a timely charge. He had earlier kept out a powerful drive by Kalu in the ninth minute among his numerous saves.

Although depleted Air-India were utterly disjointed on Sunday and could barely string together a decent move all through the match, they did have a couple of chances to put it across.

Profligate striker Njoh Jean could have given them full point but he headed over from point blank range off a long thrown in by Dhanachandra Singh in the 36th minute. A minute earlier he fluffed his shot from inside the box from a similar situation.

The lanky Cameroonian was rightly pulled out in the 71st minute but his replacement Narendra Meetei didn't see much of the action as he was tightly shackled by the Goan defense marshalled ably by international Gouramangi Singh.

Churchill Brothers now take on Dempo in a local derby in Goa on Jan 10 while Air-India fly down south for a face off with Viva Kerala on the same day.

Mario Rodrigues in Mumbai