Mumbai City FC levelled league leaders Odisha FC in the points table with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the high-flying Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi to kick off the Saturday double header of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 tonight.

Despite both teams having 35 points each, Odisha FC (+15) hold the edge against the Islanders (+14) in the standings due to a slightly better goal difference currently. The reverse fixture between Mumbai City FC and Punjab FC was a gripping 2-1 affair where the latter had blown away a one-goal lead to lose all three points back in the City of Dreams.

This evening was a repeat of the same, with the duo of Madih Talal and Wilmar Jordan Gill striking once each within two minutes to help the ISL debutants head into the halfway mark of the match with a slender 2-1 lead.

However, the Islanders answered with their January transfer market recruit and former FC Goa talisman bagging a brace in the second essay of the match to notch their 10th victory of this ISL season. Starting the proceedings in the 17th minute was Bipin Singh, who made his 100th appearance for Mumbai City FC in the match, becoming the first-ever Indian player to do so for the Islanders.

As the Islanders pierced through the Punjab FC defence with some serious pace, Bipin unleashed an effort that the opposition goalkeeper Ravi Kumar blocked, but the rebound led to Lallianzuala Chhangte who netted it past the home team custodian with extreme ease.

Tables turned 20 minutes later though, with Punjab FC matching the Mumbai City FC offence toe-to-toe. French playmaker Talal was at the centre of it all, yet again, dazzling the duo of Rahul Bheke and Mehtab Singh with his crafty footwork before testing his luck at goal from the left corner of the 18-yard-box. His effort beat the dive of Phurba Lachenpa, who had worked hard to keep Punjab FC at bay till then.

The goalkeeper’s resistance was soon coming to an end, with Talal drilling inside the Mumbai City FC backline and chipping in a short-distance cross for Wilmar Jordan Gil on the far post on the right side. Gil had to merely nod the ball inside the net in the 39th minute to secure his fourth goal of the ISL 2023-24 campaign.

The Islanders emerged as a potent force in the second half though, maintaining the upper hand in the proceedings, primarily spearheaded by the individual brilliance of Guarrotxena. Eight minutes into the second half, the dynamic striker took matters upon his own hands to charge right through the centre of the Punjab FC box, taking their entire backline aback. Suresh Meitei managed a hasty clearance, but the ball scrapped back to Guarrotxena, who slotted it past Ravi to catch hold of the equaliser.

With three wins in their last four matches prior to this one, Punjab FC was in no mood to take this lying down. They began opening up, testing their luck upfront, but it also left them exposed on the counter in the back. 11 minutes after the equaliser, central midfielder Jayesh Rane carved open the Punjab FC defence with a through ball that was directed to Guarrotxena. The Spaniard produced a finish straight out of the textbook, sealing the win and keeping his team’s hopes of retaining the ISL League Winners Shield title upbeat.

Key Performer of the Match

Iker Guarrotxena (Mumbai City FC)

Guarrotxena netted twice, but also completed an incredible 27 out of his total 29 attempted passes. The striker’s 93% accuracy on this front ensured that he helped his team both build up their offensive endeavours and also put them to bed clinically when the chances came his way.

What’s next for both teams?

Punjab FC and Mumbai City FC will contest their next fixtures against NorthEast United FC and Jamshedpur FC on March 7 and March 8 respectively.

Brief Scores

Mumbai City FC 3 (Lallianzuala Chhangte 16’, Iker Guarrotxena 53’ 64’) – 2 Punjab FC (Madih Talal 37’, Wilmar Jordan Gil 39’)

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