Goa kickstart their ISL 2023-24 campaign with a 1-0 win

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The 'Manolo Era' commenced with a triumph at Fatorda!

Goa edged past Punjab to commence their journey of the 2023-24 Indian Super League campaign with a triumph at their fortress Fatorda Stadium.

Debutant Carlos Martinez scored the only goal of the night to snatch three points for his new home in the final game of Matchday 2 on Monday. The newly promoted side brave-heartedly faced the Western heavyweights but will have to wait for another week to achieve their first points in the Indian top-flight league. 

Manolo Marquez surprised everyone while naming his first Starting XI as the Goa manager with the inclusion of emerging left-back Jay Gupta who rose from the academy ranks. The stalwart Indian defender Sandesh Jhingan managed to barge into the Gaurs lineup after returning from the Asian Games but goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh couldn’t make it as Arshdeep Singh was preferred in goal. 

Punjab general Staikos Vergetis decided to retain the same core from their opening fixture and named only a single change in the lineup. The 27-year-old Manipuri forward Krishnananda Singh made his maiden ISL start replacing Prasanth Karuthadathlkuni on the right-wing flank.

Goa attracted the first free-kick of the play in the third minute itself but Noah Sadaoui’s attempt was swiftly turned down by the Nepalese guardian Kiran Limbu. 

The Veteran Carlitos proves his worth to the Goan supporters

Despite struggling to dominate the possession play in the initial minutes, the Gaurs kept their diligent efforts going and finally found the back of the net in the 17th minute. It was the striker Carlos Martinez who scored the goal on his debut appearance with the assistance of another debutant Raynier Fernandes to break the deadlock for the home team. The successful move was initiated with Carl McHugh’s cross which was briskly set up from the strike by Raynier and the 37-year-old Spaniard made no mistake in finishing it off. 

A couple of minutes after conceding the opening goal, the offensive unit of the Shers set out in search of the equalizing strike but it ended up in despair for the visitors. Juan Mera who was threatening the Goan defense was brought down with a stretched leg from the home skipper Brandon Fernandes inside the box and the Spanish playmaker showed his frustration after being denied a penalty by referee Jamal Mohamed. 

The Gaurs got another opportunity to double the lead in the 23rd minute when the Moroccan magician Noah capitalized on Melroy Assisi’s miss-pass with a pacy run but failed to keep his shot on target. 

The Mohali-based outfit came very close to breaking the scoreline in the 37th minute which turned out to be their only on-target attempt of the first half. Mera’s sizzling strike from out of the 18-yard box was initially blocked by Arshdeep but the rebound fell to Krishnananda who couldn’t put up a befitting finish. 

Unlike the first half, Goa came up for the second half with dominating intent and was also successful in securing 70% of ball possession in the first 10 minutes. Vergetis saw his players being unproductive in finding the equalizer and was forced to make the first substitutions of the night with a double-change in the 60th minute. 

Goa’s defensive department lost momentum in the last 30 minutes and started committing positional errors which led to a threat on their tiny lead numerous times. The one-goal lead was almost dethroned by the Shers in the 64th minute when skipper Luka Mjcen outwitted Arshdeep but the breakthrough move was ruled offside by the referee. 

The linesman Ujjal Halder received criticism from Punjab knights on his offside decision as the replay proved the legitimacy of the Slovenian forward’s strike later on. 

Prasanth’s cameo was a positive takeaway for the Northern Shers

Prasanth K, who came off the substitute bench in the 61st minute brought a refreshing breeze into the Punjabi camp and started causing trouble for the Orangers. Especially on one such occasion when Prasanth managed to set up a tap-in for Wilmar Jordan Gil but the former NorthEast United skipper distressfully failed to connect it. The series of unavailing attempts continued for the visitor until the full-time whistle when Goan defenders finally took a reliving breath having all three points in their hands. 

Punjab deserved to share the points at Fatorda after a stellar performance away from home but the fortunes didn’t favor the Shers and their pointless run in the ISL was prolonged. Manolo Marquez’s trusted 33-year-old central defender Odei Onaindia received the ‘Hero of the Match’ honor for showcasing a robust defensive play and donning captain’s responsibilities in the crucial phase. 

Punjab’s search for the maiden ISL points will bring them back to the north as they will be taking on NorthEast United in their first home fixture of the season at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Meanwhile, the Gaurs will extend their stay at the Pearl of Orient for another week in order to face Odisha at home on Saturday.