Bartholomew Ogbeche's return to form is the perfect tonic for goal-shy Hyderabad FC
Hyderabad FC have been a well-oiled machine this season, as they have picked up right from where they left off after being crowned Hero Indian Super League (ISL) champions last season.
Manolo Marquez’s side are poised to scale new heights and reach more milestones in the ongoing season, too, as Hyderabad FC stand in second place in the league standings. They have picked up 25 points after 11 games, winning eight, drawing one, and losing just two games.
While they might have been known for their goalscoring prowess after scoring the most goals last season (43), Hyderabad FC’s defensive section has tightened up this season, with the club bringing in reinforcements. Marquez’s side has conceded the fewest goals than any other team in the league, letting in just six goals this season.
The Spaniard has also put forth a unit capable of delivering goals from all over the pitch, with eight different players being among the goals this season.
However, their talisman Bartholomew Ogbeche - their frontrunner in attack last season with 18 goals and who scooped the Golden Boot award - has had a dry spell since the start of the ongoing season.
Having been on a seven-match goalscoring drought, the star striker ended his rough patch by scoring a goal in his side’s 3-0 victory over Bengaluru FC and inspired the team with his poaching skills in front of the goal.
“When you score 18 goals in a season, your team is going to be in the finals. Simple.
Having a player that finishes the plays or is a go-to man always gives you confidence. Knowing that you just have to deliver some quality to Bart and more often than not, he hits the target,” says Hero ISL expert and commentator Erik Partaalu.
The Nigerian has the reputation of being one of the most lethal strikers in the league by performing consistently with several Hero ISL clubs during his time in India, spanning over five seasons.
While his dry spell might have been questioned by many, the league’s all-time leading goalscorer might not have yet lost his touch, especially after having a stellar last season.
“Just because he scored doesn’t mean that he’s not in form. I think he’s been working his socks off. Bart is an absolute quality (player), a real top-drawer professional, and you can see that from his work-rate and his work ethic. This is why Manolo Marquez wouldn’t leave him out of his team,” says Hero ISL expert and commentator Paul Masefield.
“He knew Bart was going through a bit of a barren spell, and it happens to all strikers. He’s started scoring, and it's the first of many. He’s been in total form, and by adding his goals to the bow, that’s a dangerous Bart, and I think that is something that everybody needs to be aware of,” he adds.
Hyderabad FC might have missed Ogbeche’s goals the most in their two successive defeats against Kerala Blasters FC and ATK Mohun Bagan. Still, Marquez didn’t just look to his target man for their goalscoring solutions. The Spaniard encouraged his players to push further upfront and contribute in attack. Alongside Ogbeche, Mohammad Yasir and Halicharan Narzary are the joint-leading goalscorers for HFC this season, with three goals each.
Hyderabad FC have won more matches at this stage of a Hero ISL season than any other season. They have won eight games so far compared to the four games they won in their title-winning campaign last season. Hero ISL expert and commentator Darren Caldeira believes the match against NorthEast United FC can be a perfect game for Ogbeche to add to his goal-scoring tally, with the Highlanders conceding the most goals this season (27).
“He (Ogbeche) got that important goal, and knowing the kind of character he is, he’s probably going to add to his tally, especially when he’s coming up against a NorthEast United FC side who defensively tend to concede goals,” states Caldeira.
“Hyderabad FC are a side who are pretty sound defensively, who make sure they keep it very tight at the back. So sometimes, a goal or two is about enough, but now that Bart Ogbeche is scoring, they look like a different side. If he is in form and firing, it’s very difficult to beat that Hyderabad FC side because they are pretty compact and solid at the back. If you’ve got Bart Ogbeche scoring goals up front, it can get tough for the opposition,” he adds.
Ogbeche doesn’t need to prove himself, having done it several times, especially on the big stage. With a goalscoring boost in the previous game, the 38-year-old will be fired up to find the back of the net, particularly at this point of time in the season where Hyderabad FC stand a huge opportunity to pose a serious threat to Mumbai City FC as contenders for the Hero ISL title.
With the assistance of Halicharan and Mohammad Yasir in attack and backed by the midfield brilliance of Joao Victor, Ogbeche has the stage set for him to shine and be back in the goalscoring charts.
“I think it’s going to be a big season for him. He’s going to make double figures, I don't doubt that at all. He hasn't scored for three or four games, bang, he gets his goal, and he’ll go on a scoring spree from now until the end of the season,” adds Masefield.
Given the quality in Marquez’s squad, Ogbeche being back among the goals is only a sign of better things for the reigning Hero ISL champions. With nine games to go, Hyderabad FC will bank on their star striker to spearhead their attack and cause multiple problems for opposition defences.