Services coach S.P. Shaji, who is due to retire at the end of this month, couldn’t have asked for a better parting gift. A spirited display by Shaji’s boys gave Services its fourth Santosh Trophy football title in five years, and this time, at the expense of host Maharashtra at the SEC Railway stadium on Sunday.
The defending champion found the man of the moment in the hardworking Arjun Tudu who struck a brace (25 and 36) after local lad Mohammed Shabaz had put the host ahead with a peach of a goal in the 14th minute. Services played the final nine minutes, which included six minutes of added time, with a man short after Hardik Kanojiya was sent out for his second bookable offence.
Shabaz’s superb control and execution left Services stunned, much to the delight of the capacity holiday crowd. Shabaz was still airborne when he controlled Mervin Stephen’s pass with his chest and unleashed a left footed volley into the net from top of the box. However, that goal remained the only highpoint for Maharasthra in the entire match. By its standards, Maharashtra was awful in the final. The trademark one-touch game was missing or rather it wasn’t allowed to play that by the seasoned Services side.
It was a good comeback by the defending champion. The famous indomitable spirit of Services took over after the opening goal and Maharashtra’s midfielders were rattled by some rough tackles. Maharashtra’s trump card Raynier Fernendez was rendered ineffective and was never allowed to play his natural game. Though Maharashtra captain Vijit Shetty shouldered the responsibility of launching the attack, he didn’t have enough support upfront from his strikers. In the previous matches, the host had used the flanks to launch the attacks but it was curtailed by the Services in the final.
Midway through the first half, a pattern had emerged where Services looked dangerous on breaks whenever they had possession. With Raynier having an off-day, there was none in the Maharashtra’s ranks to control the game in the midfield. The equaliser came when Maharashtra’s defenders tried to catch Tudu with the off-side trap. But the striker beat the trap — when the overhead pass from Hardik came to him — and scored in the 25th minute.
More disaster awaited the host in the 36th minute when Maharashtra’s Wayne Vaz failed to make a first time clearance as the ball was floated into box from middle. Tudu accepted the gift and scored without much.
Early in the second half, Owasis Khan came out of his guard to deny Antony Chettri. The goalkeeper again had to trust his instincts to deny Jain in the 62nd minute. Holding possession for longer periods, Services controlled the flow of the game. The rare Maharashtra moves lost the sting once it entered the rival box. The host’s players were denied space and were also guilty of holding on the ball far too long inside the box. A couple of misdirected free-kicks from outside the box were all what the host managed in the second half. Though a man down, Services defended with zeal in the dying minutes to lift the trophy.
Shaji credited his boys for their fighting spirit and said he knew his team was capable of making a comeback after letting in early goal. He also said that his team was able to execute its plan to perfection. “I cannot think of a better parting gift than this trophy from my boys,” said Shaji.
Maharashtra coach Agusto D’Silva admitted that his boys came up short when it mattered and was fulsome in praise for Services team. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave away the prizes to the winner.
Services 2 (Arjun Tudu 25, 36) bt Maharashtra 1 (Mohammed Shabaz 14).