Sandesh Sigdel, Kathmandu
Refereeing changes and Dhangadhi head coach Yugal Kishor Rai’s disagreements regarding the change during half-time governed the post-match feelings of the 1-1 draw between Kathmandu RayZrs and Dhangadhi FC, the winners and runners-up of the first edition of Nepal Super League.
Rai, at the post match press conference, was insistent on his dissent regarding the appointment of Nabindra Maharjan as the referee for the second half after Prajwol Chhetri, who officiated the first half couldn’t continue due to an apparent injury.
The match, however, keeping the replacement aside, was competitive. The teams were in it to win it but no result was possible except a draw. Ahmad Hijazi’s goal in the first half for Dhangadhi was canceled out by a Kingue Oliver header in the second half as both sides settled for a point each.
Dhangadhi could have booked their place in the playoffs with a win today. However, even with a draw, they have a strong foothold with the commencement of the final week of the round-robin stage.
Dhangadhi, who won two matches this season with late goals, broke the deadlock this time. And his came from a defensive error from Kathmandu’s foreign acquisition, Andres Nia.
Fallou Diagne’s clearance, in the attempt to head back to his goalkeeper, was headed into Hijazi’s path by Nia. The Lebanese forward pounced on the opportunity to lob the ball over an onrushing goalkeeper Anzal Shrestha to put his team ahead.
However, in the very next minute, Dhangadhi had luck on their side as Kathmandu squandered a big opportunity to equalize. Devendra Tamang’s attempt at clearing a cross from Tojidinov Komiwon struck the crossbar and fell for Prashant Awasthi who skied his shot from six yards out.
Tekendra Singh Thapa, the Dhangadhi goalkeeper, was in the mix four minutes later when he saved Hisub Thapaliya’s attempt to keep the lead intact.
The Kathmandu shot-stopper, Shrestha, was in-hand to make a crucial save towards the end of the first half when he gathered Hijazi’s attempt from close range to keep his team’s deficit to one goal.
Dhangadhi tested the Kathmandu backline at the start of the second half as Nia denied Olawale’s potential one-on-one run on Tikendra and Fode Fodana’s header was saved by Anzal. On the other hand, Tikendra made a good save to deny Shokhrukh from equalizing off a Tojidinov through-ball. However, Dhangadhi’s defences were breached in the 66th minute.
A towering header from Kingue Oliver gave Tikendra and Dhangadhi no chance to protect their lead as he equalized for the defending champions.
The rest of the clear opportunities fell for Dhangadhi but they were wasteful. Hijazi fired one high off Ram Chandra Wajee’s through ball and Abhisekh Gurung’s header off a Kamal Shrestha cross went narrowly off the post.
Dhangadhi stay at the top with an undefeated run of six matches and 12 points so far. Kathmandu are fourth with nine points from as many matches.
Lalitpur City FC can climb to the top if they can defeat Sporting Ilam FC in the first kickoff of the day at 1 PM tomorrow. Butwal Lumbini FC and Pokhara Thunders will lock horns in the evening fixture at 5 PM.