12:00 GMT, Sunday 4th March, JRD Tata Sports Complex (Jamshedpur, India), Sab TV UK
This Sunday sees the final battle for the final playoff spot when Jamshedpur FC hosts the resurgent FC Goa.
Steve Coppell’s team will be playing their third consecutive match against a top-four side and after having lost both the games, only a win will help them salvage their season.
If Jamshedpur fail to win, it will be an intense heartbreak for the Indian Super League debutants who were one of the most consistent teams in the league but ran out of steam at the last moment.
Sergio Lobera’s Gaurs picked up their pace at the perfect moment and had they lost any of their last two games, they would have been out of the running and Jamshedpur would have qualified.
But Ferran Corominas’s return to form helped them revive their season after only two wins from their previous ten games.
Last Time Out
Jamshedpur FC 0-2 Bengaluru FC (Indian Super League)
This was an uncharacteristic and lacklustre performance from the home team. They had won the reverse fixture 1-0 but faltered at home to allow Bengaluru romp away with the three points, leaving their season hanging by a thread.
The Men of Steel fell to the Blues as Miku and Sunil Chhetri penetrated Jamshedpur’s inner sanctum multiple times in the first 15 minutes, coming close to scoring twice.
The visitors enjoyed 58% of the possession, while capitalising on Jamshedpur’s poor passing accuracy of 53%.
Miku put the first goal past Subrata Pal from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute, while Sunil Chhetri doubled the lead with a header on Dimas Delgado’s corner-kick.
Ironically, the home team had almost double the number of shots on target (9 vs 5) but none of them looked as dangerous and provided any assurance of Jamshedpur striking a comeback.
FC Goa 5-1 ATK (Indian Super League)
This match saw the Gaurs return to the same frightening form that had teams petrified at the start of the season. They dominated every aspect of play from possession, pass accuracy, interceptions to shots on target.
ATK’s defence crumbled at the feet of the Goan attackers and lacked any incentive in putting up a challenge or tracking their man. Sergio Juste started the party with a sublime header on Hugo Boumous’s corner kick.
At the 15th minute, Manuel Lanzarote scored from a rebound off Soram Poirei’s gloves, doubling the lead. Despite going up 2-0 by the 15th minute, Lanzarote and Co. were far from over, as the Spaniard notched in his second goal of the night only six minutes later when he cut inside from the right and curled the ball into the far post corner.
After the restart, ATK attempted to return to the game and had a few decent opportunities through Robbie Keane and Sibongakonke Mbatha but both failed to score.
At the 64th minute mark, Goa took back control of the game as Ferran Corominas picked up his 16th goal of the campaign with a low free-kick from outside the box.
Robbie Keane finally managed to get one back in the 87th minute, but just three minutes later: substitute Mark Sifneos exploiting the gap in ATK defence to score his first in Goa colours.
Jamshedpur FC Lineup
Mehtab Hossain will remain out due to suspension, while Anas could make a comeback into the starting lineup, shifting Andre Bikey to the double pivot beside Memo.
FC Goa Lineup
The Gaurs are likely to keep an unchanged lineup as they look to power through Jamshedpur to a playoff spot.
Key Battle: Yumnam Raju (Jamshedpur FC) vs Manuel Lanzarote (FC Goa)
The Manipuri defender played out a relatively anonymous season when he first appeared in the ISL for NorthEast United.
He was the second choice for left-back at Jamshedpur behind Souvik Ghosh but after the latter got injured, Raju was introduced into the lineup.
The former Highlanders put up stunning displays, making goal-line clearances on a couple of occasions and saving his team embarrassment by a few last-ditch tackles on a number occasions. Furthermore, his physical presence in the box gives him an advantage in set-pieces.
On Sunday, he’ll be taking on Goa’s number one playmaker, Manuel Lanzarote. The Spaniard has been one of the most influential players in the league, scoring 11 goals from 16 appearances while making five assists as well.
His trickery and pace on the flanks have been a nightmare for defenders. Add to that, his ability to cut inside and curl one in, then he’s just as effective as Ferran Corominas in the final third.
It’s all or nothing
For the fans, there could hardly be a better match. A team driven by pragmatic philosophies takes on an attacking-minded team and the winner seals a playoff spot. While the traditional defence vs attack scenario will be there, it will ultimately boil down to whoever wants it the most.
Jamshedpur hasn’t had the best performance recently and their last fixture showed they are running low on steam. But Coppell has managed to pull his team back to winning ways on multiple occasions after a string of losses and will be desperate to put it all in on Sunday.
Goa had to face the ignominy of finishing bottom in the last season after finishing runners-up the year before. They will be well-motivated to push through to the finals and vindicate their decision to play an attacking brand of football, despite its deficiencies.
Prediction: Jamshedpur FC 1-3 FC Goa
The home team do not look well-poised to take on a rampant Gaur team. They seemed to lack the intensity to play a team like Bengaluru and Goa aren’t really known to be the most forgiving team in such situations.