Sethu FC rallied from a goal behind and produced a second half performance for the ages to beat Manipur Police in the 2018-19 Indian Women’s League final.
Today’s finalists Manipur Police SC and Sethu FC were both from Group II – they qualified for the final after beating Group I teams Gokulam Kerala FC and Central Women SSB in the semis. And they were the most dominant teams in the league by a distance – the two teams combined scored 83 out of the 152 goals scored leading into the final – that’s 55% percent of the goals scored in the tournament coming from the two sides!
Going into today’s game, Sethu FC were the favourites having beaten Manipur Police in the group stage 6-4. Infact, Sethu FC conceded only five goals in the lead up to the final – and four of them were in the game against Manipur Police SC.
Sethu also has at least half a dozen Indian internationals in their lineup and the brilliant Nepalese forward Sabitra Bhandari to lead the attack. And in the Indian NT centre-back pairing of Ashalata and Sweety Devi, they had organisation at the back and the ability to deal with Ngangom Bala Devi – the Manipuri forward had scored an eye-watering 26 goals in six games going into the final.
As early as in the 2nd minute, Bala Devi almost got Manipur Police into the lead after her header from a corner was cleared by Muthu who was guarding the near post.
Bala Devi was at it again and was on towards goal around the 15th minute, but was hacked down by the Sethu defender just outside the box – surprisingly, no foul was given. This decision and a couple of other penalty shout-outs for the Manipur side would court controversy after the match ended.
After an initial bout of cagey football, Sethu FC started finding their groove and Indumathi and Sumithra took charge of midfield. Sandhiya fluffed a couple of glorious chances in the box and Sabitra had a good shot on target saved by the MPSC custodian.
Manipur had chances fall to the excellent U-19 NT forward Daya Devi who hit the post late in the first half. Bala Devi got a couple of shots away from outside the box with Ashalata giving her little space to maneuver whenever she found herself inside the 18 yard area.
Eventually, almost against the run of play, Manipur Police took the lead in the 44th minute through the defender Radha Rani who turned in a header from a corner.
A few minutes after the second half restarted, it looked like Daya Devi was brought down by the Sethu keeper inside the box, but the referee didn’t deem it worthy of a penalty. A minute later, Sethu would equalise (56′) from some slick attacking play. Dangmei Grace was released into space on the right from a Ratan Bala Devi ball over the top. Grace crossed the ball back into the box and Indumathi making a run from midfield applied the finish. The MPSC defender Umapati Devi tried to clear the ball off the line, but ended up putting the ball into her own net and was credited with an own goal.
After the equaliser, Sethu FC swarmed forward and and found space behind the opposition at will. The Manipur defence which was resolute in the first half looked vulnerable every time Sethu moved up the pitch.
Offensively, Manipur’s midfield was non-existent and rarely supported the forward duo of Bala Devi and Daya Devi. They couldn’t drive the ball forward and the strikers were left on their own accord in the opposition half with little to no support arriving when in possession of the ball.
Soon enough, it was Sabitra Bhandari’s turn to stamp her authority and class on the game. The first of her two goals came in the 61st minute. Indumathi won the ball in midfield and put Sabitra Bhandari through – Bhandari with a burst of pace went ahead of two MPSC defenders and slotted the ball in to give her side the lead.
Sabitra would get her brace in the 71st minute to make it 3-1 in favour of Sethu FC. In a rinse and repeat cycle which led to the earlier goal, Indumathi threaded a ball into Sabitra behind the Manipur Police defence. The Nepalese forward did what she does best and Sethu FC’s two goal lead would prove to be decisive and insurmountable as the full-time whistle blew.
There were accusations made against the quality of refereeing by the Manipur Police coach Surmala Chanu.
Surmala Chanu also had a grouse against the MVP award which was given to Sandhiya from Sethu FC.
Bala got the top-scorer, which is good but I don’t understand the Most Valuable Player award. I mean how do you judge it?
Bala got player of the match in four matches while Sandhiya got it in just two. How is the selection done then?Surmala Chanu, Head Coach, Manipur Police SC