Sandesh Sigdel, Kathmandu
Jhapa FC terminated Dhangadhi FC’s unbeaten streak by clinching a 2-0 victory on Wednesday, extending their own undefeated run to six matches. Jhapa’s win was made possible by second-half goals from Anjan Bista and Samiraj Thokar.
Right from the outset, it seemed as though victory was scripted for Jhapa. They had chances to score within the opening moments of the first quarter. Rohan Karki lost the pass made by Ahmad Hijazi to kick the game off and inadvertently gifted Jhapa with an opportunity but Jorge Sanchez squandered the opportunity and shot wide.
Dhangadhi had a chance to score just two minutes later but Ahmad Hijazi shot high after a good show of close control. Hijazi was the focal point of Dhangadhi’s attack throughout the match and was the one who brought out the first of a few saves Cupic had to make in the 20th minute with a volley attempt. Two minutes later, Kamal Shrestha’s free-kick required a punch from Cupic.
In the 24th minute, Jorge Sanchez’s heavy first touch let him down and allowed the opposing goalkeeper, Mohammad Taha, to intervene decisively by coming off the line to make a save. Jhapa edged close to scoring once more in the 30th minute, with Samandar Ochilov’s free-kick effort narrowly missing the target but coming remarkably close to the goal.
Sanchez brought out a fine save from Taha with a well-placed shot in the 41st minute after dribbling past Chhiring Lama.
Deservedly, Jhapa seized the lead in the 53rd minute following a series of persistent attacks. Chhiring Lama delivered a cross from the right, and skipper Anjan Bista met it with a glancing header to score his first goal of the campaign.
Cupic was on hand to save Jhapa from conceding in the 70th minute as he expertly tipped a Fode Fofana header over the bar. Jhapa extended their lead in the 77th minute when Pradip Lama’s well-executed cutback set up Jorge Sanchez to guide the ball towards the goal. However, the final touch that secured the goal came from Samiraj Thokar, denying what could have been the second goal of the campaign for the Spanish striker.
Jhapa found themselves down to ten men just two minutes later. Substitute Dhiraj Thajali’s reckless tackle on Saimon Limbu earned him a red card from the referee. Despite the disadvantage, Jhapa held their ground during the final ten minutes, plus stoppage time and took home all three points and a clean sheet.
Jhapa move to fourth on the table and find themselves closer to the playoffs. Jhapa, with a win in their final match against FC Chitwan, can book their place in the top four. Dhangadhi, on the other hand, stay second on 13 points with one match remaining against table-toppers Pokhara Thunders.
The top two at the end of the round-robin stage will meet for a place in the final while the losing team will play the winners of the encounter between the third and fourth-placed teams for the other place in the final.