A dream debut from Israil Gurung allowed Pune to get the best over their rivals from across the Expressway.
For a much-hyped “Maharashtra” derby, there was not a single player from Maharashtra in either the Mumbai or Pune teams. But after a slight delay due to the nets on goal requiring some fixing (perhaps because of the unnecessary fireworks), Mumbai FC duly kicked off against FC Pune, with much of the Twitterati expressing disappointment over the many empty seats at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune.
Pune break through
Mumbai City FC started the game better than their Pune counterparts, creating more chances and the three-man frontline of Frederic Piquionne, Gabriel Fernandes and Sony Norde all looked lively. But Mumbai were a victim of their own gameplay when Pune broke away on a counter attack in the 11th minute. The move was lead by Ivory Coast star Didier Zokora who had the composure to play the ball wide after successfully drawing three defenders towards him. The ball was eventually whipped in by Israil Gurung for Tuncay Sanli to head it home in the 12th minute. However, this did not affect Mumbai, who continued to dominate.
Piquionne’s presence was evident not just in the final third. He dropped deep numerous times and released Fernandes and Norde several times in the first half, and they continued to cause mayhem. Mumbai came close to equalising when they struck the post in the 33rd minute after Fernandes’s low cross took a deflection and reached Piquionne. Unfazed, they continued to pile on the pressure and finally managed to equalise when Ashutosh Mehta play a measured cross to Piquionne who scored the second headed goal of the match. Despite a couple of other chances, Mumbai failed to convert. The most noticeable miss was by Norde right in the end of the first half.
More of the same was expected in the second half but the dressing room talk at half-time worked wonders for Pune. The home team were now in control of the game, enjoying more possession and creating more chances. Gurung remained a constant threat for the opposition on the wings and sent through a pinpoint cross to Sanli who was on the mark again with his head to cap off a dream debut. Perhaps, Pune have finally got a striker who can match their spending and expectations.
Mutu makes his mark
Tuncay was soon taken off with Pune’s hot new signing Adrian Mutu introduced in the 61st minute. From then on, it was only a matter of time before the red-hot hosts extended their lead. Mutu broke away from the midfield and expertly found Gurung on the right. Gurung tried a repeat of what he had done throughout the match ‒ play a perfectly weighted cross. But instead, it took a deflection from a Mumbai defender to sneak under the crossbar. Fortunately for Gurung, it was not declared an own goal and the former Churchill Brothers man deservedly got his name in the scorebook.
The verdict of the match was simple. Mumbai still have not been able to break the curse of away games, carried over from last year. On the other side of the Expressway, Pune has restored bragging rights over their city rivals after a humiliating 5-0 thrashing last season.