ISL 2023-24: Punjab FC go down fighting to Odisha FC, still in playoff contention

Bhubaneshwar, April 2 (IANS) Punjab FC went down fighting 3-1 to Odisha FC, who put in a wonderful second-half display scoring twice in the space of six minutes, in Round 20 of the Indian Super League 2023-24 at the Kalinga Stadium here on Tuesday and moved up to second spot in the points table.

Diego Mauricio scored twice for the hosts while Isak Ralte scored the third. Madih Talal scored the only goal for the away side. With this win, Odisha FC who remained unbeaten at home moved to second in the table while Punjab FC remained in eighth, still in contention for the final playoff spot.

Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis made two changes to the starting lineup with Suresh Meitei and Nikhil Prabhu coming back in place of Melroy Assisi and Amarjit Singh Kiyam. Odisha FC Head Coach Sergio Lobera named a very strong lineup for the crucial encounter.

The away side worked hard in the midfield from the start, winning the ball back in the Odisha half leading to promising attacks. Ricky Shabong and Madih Talal created attacking opportunities for the forwards but the finishing was not on point. Talal and Wilmar Jordan tested Amrinder Singh on goal but the Odisha keeper was up to the task. On the other end, Diego Mauricio struck the crossbar with PFC keeper Ravi Kumar rooted to the spot.

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Odisha took the lead right after the break with Diego Mauricio leaping ahead of Dimitrios Chatziiasias from a Jerry Lalrinzuala cross and planting a header past the diving goalkeeper.

Punjab were not behind for long as they found the equalizer just four minutes later. Left-back Mohammed Salah pounced on a loose ball from Ahmed Jahouh and found Madih Talal. The Frenchman drove ahead and hit a perfect shot which found the bottom corner for his fifth goal of the season.

Punjab coach Staikos Vergetis received a yellow card for dissent with the match officials just before halftime, which will see him suspended for the next match against Mohun Bagan. Both teams went into the half on level terms with the match evenly poised.

Both managers made substitutions at the start of the second half, with Juan Mera coming in for Punjab and Lenny Rodrigues for Odisha. The home side controlled the next phase of the match, increasing the tempo and testing the Punjab side.

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Punjab FC thought they had taken the lead but Bryce Miranda who had pounced on a mistake from Mourtada Fall saw his shot denied by Carlos Delgado who put a diving clearance to deny the ball from going into the net. The instant attack on the other end saw Odisha taking the lead. A couple of quick passes in the right wing found Amey Ranawade whose cut back was expertly finished by Isak Ralte. Odisha was awarded a penalty in the 67th minute. Suresh Meitei kicked Mourtada Fall inside the box and the resultant penalty was converted by Diego Mauricio who had to take it twice after the first attempt was chalked off for a penalty box infringement by an Odisha player.

With a two-goal lead, Odisha put in a professional display passing the ball around and not allowing Punjab any chance to come back into the game.

Punjab FC remained in eighth position in the table with 21 points from 20 matches while Odisha FC jumped to second with 39 points from 20 points. Punjab FC will face Mohun Bagan Super Giant in their penultimate match on April 6 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.

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–IANS

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