Churchill Brothers moved to the second place with a dominating 3-1 win over Gokulam Kerala FC in the I-League Thursday.
The Dawda Cessay-Willis Plaza combination has proved to be very effective for the Goan giants this 12th Hero I-League season and the duo was again on the scoresheet at the Tilak Maidan.
Marcus Joseph, Kerala’s latest attacking recruit from Trinidad & Tobago, did get a goal on his debut to give the visitors an early lead, but it was not enough on the day. Churchill have 22 points from 12 games to be two behind leaders Chennai, while Gokulam, after suffering their sixth defeat in as many matches, find themselves stuck on eighth with 10 points.
Plaza scored his 10th and 11th goals of the league in the game to also go right back on top of the scorer’s chart, having momentarily lost it to Pedro Manzi of Chennai, who has 10. Both teams made wholesale changes to their starting XI from their previous game.
Gokulam, in fact, made as many as six prominent changes, among them being Marcus Joseph, the striker having been drafted in over the last 48 hours in place of Nigerian Joel Sunday. Fabricio Ortiz also made a comeback from suspension and took his place at centre-back while Arnab Das Sharma started in goal replacing Shibinraj.
Churchill made four changes but two of them were the coming back from injuries of central defender Hussein Eldor and right back Wayne Vaz. Romanian coach Petre Gigiu also started Dawda Cessay, Willis Plaza and Anthony Wolfe altogether upfront in a rare move.
Bino George’s Gokulam got an early lead thanks to a goalkeeping blooper by James Kithan and Marcus had to wait just 14 minutes to score his first in the I-League. An ambitious strike from him from more than 30 yards out, seemed headed harmlessly for Kithan to collect, but the keeper embarrassed himself, letting it slip through his legs.
Churchill turned on the heat after conceding and Plaza got a golden chance off another goalkeeping error, this time, at the other end, but with an open goal in front of him, missed the target from just outside the box. It was then Pritam Singh’s turn to miss a sitter for Gokulam in the 36th minute and a minute later, Cessay brought the home side back into the game with a thunderous left-footed strike across Das Sharma from just inside the box on the left.
In the second half, Bino George was forced to replace an injured Rajesh, who was one of their bright sparks in the first half, with Mohammad Rashid, making them go two substitutions down already with U-22 player Jestin George being replaced by Abhishek Das in the first half itself.
Churchill piled up the pressure from the beginning of the half and it was only thanks to the heroics of Das Sharma that they did not take the lead earlier.
Then Willis Plaza struck his 10th goal of the campaign in the 56th minute, clinically finishing off a well-directed cross from the right by Chesterpaul Lyngdoh, with a left-footed stabbed volley, which was also very well placed.
Plaza then got his second of the game and Churchill’s third in the first minute of injury time after a solo effort saw him befuddling the Gokulam defence before bringing about another clinical finish.