It could be a measure of their confidence, or simply the killer heat on an artificial turf, Churchill Brothers made such an unusually slow start that it took ages for the ball to travel from one end to the other.
They, however, did keep ball possession, making Air India chase shadows with short-passes, eventually turning the match into a one-sided contest with a 3-0 hammering at the Duler Stadium in Mapusa on Tuesday.
The victory, made possible by Beto's early penalty and Henry Arnaud's brace, propelled Churchill Brothers to the top of the table with 42 points, two more than title challengers East Bengal and a relatively easier match in hand against ONGC later this week.
Technical director Subhash Bhowmick's pre-match assertion that they have a five-point advantage over East Bengal — when, in reality, they were a point behind — was cocky, yet he hit the nail on the head. His team is on the right track and on evidence of Tuesday's showing, confidence is not in short supply.
It were Air India, though, who created the first flutter. Hardly had the spectators taken their seats, Mickky Fernandes tested rival goalkeeper Sandip Nandy with a swirling freekick.
Churchill, soon enough, had their noses infront when the match was just seven minutes old. The hardworking Bineesh Balan took Air India defence by surprise when he floated a mesmerizing ball into the danger zone where Steven Dias trapped neatly but collapsed under the challenge of M Pradeep. Referee Andrew Shekar spotted the infringement and had no hesitation in awarding a penalty which Beto converted.
It seemed like Churchill had the match in their pocket with an early goal, although that pocket could have invariably had a hole. It was left for good old Nandy to come to his team's rescue as he thwarted Henry Ezeh, twice, in a one-on-one situation.
Churchill made Air India pay for the lapses in front of goal as midfielder Lenny Rodrigues sent a defence-splitting ball for Henri to draw out the goalkeeper and complete the goal-scoring formalities.
In the second session, Churchill helped themselves to another goal. Henri should have thanked defender Rahul Bheke and goalkeeper Sukhwinder Singh, both of whom comically contrived to allow Henri the easiest of opportunities. A back pass should have been routine collection for the goalkeeper, but distracted by Bheke, Air India turned a laughing stock.
This was no laughing matter for Naushad Moosa, though. The Air India coach, taking charge of the team for only the second match, tried to rejig his side. But with the strikers continuously misfiring, his team didnt really have a chance. [TOI]