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Air India down HAL to maintain unbeaten run

January 16, 2007 19:02 IST

Air-India recorded a facile 3-1 victory over promoted Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Sports Club in the third round to maintain their unbeaten run in the National Football League, at the Cooperage in Mumbai on Tuesday.

The victory takes the Mumbai outfit to second position, behind city mates Mahindra United, who also have seven points but a superior goal difference.

The Bangalore side slid down one position to ninth spot with a solitary point.

Nigerian striker and man-of-the-match Bashiru Abbas (33rd minute), Noel Fernandes (39th minute) and Narendra Meetei (70th minute) got the goals for the winners while skipper Xavier Vijay Kumar (42nd minute) reduced the margin.

Incidentally, all four goals came from set piece situations.

HAL custodian Gumpe Rime's lack of inches cost the visitors dear as Air-India exploited the frailty. By the time former India technical director Krishnaji Rao took remedial measures and replaced him with the taller Balaji midway through the second session, the damage had already been done.

Air-India coach Bimal Ghosh quickly spotted the window of opportunity by bringing in Uttam Kumar, in the 25th minute, whose patented long throw-ins put the HAL defence under immediate pressure.

The first goal resulted from this ruse, with Benoy Kuruvilla flicking on and Abbas essaying a superb reverse kick to send the ball on target.

Air-India's second strike came from a corner kick, taken by Paresh Shivalkar; this time Fernandes completed the ritual.

Shivalkar also had a hand in the final goal, Meetei prodding in his free-kick.

Xavier too scored from a corner kick.

The introduction of Kuttymani into the HAL attack injected some thrust in the second session. The rangy roving striker managed some snap shots at the Air-India citadel, once forcing Raju Ekka into a full-length dive to parry a swirling long-range effort.

The match was played at a slow tempo and most of the action was confined to midfield, with Air-India preferring to play well within themselves and not breathe down hard as they normally do against more fancied opponents.

The Mumbai side will play their first away match, versus Mohun Bagan, in Kolkata on January 20, while HAL will also travel to the 'City of Joy' for a clash with Mohammedan Sporting on January 22.

Air-India right-wing-back Fernandes, who picked his second yellow card today, will however miss the action.

Mario Rodrigues