Naihati (WB): This season's I-League title will be decided on the final match day on Saturday as defending champions Gokulam Kerala suffered a stunning 1-3 defeat at the hands of Sreenidi Deccan in their penultimate championship phase game here on Tuesday.
Gokulam needed just a draw against Sreenidi to win the crown and become the first club to defend the title in the history of the 15-year-old I-League. But they slumped to their first defeat, which came at a crucial juncture.
No club in the I-League era has defended its title. Kolkata side East Bengal had achieved the feat in the era of National Football League, the predecessor of I-League, by winning title in 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
Lalromawia was the star of the match as struck a hat-trick in the 19th, 34th and 37th minutes while Sharif M Mohammad pulled one back for Gokulam in the 47th minute.
Gokulam's defeat meant that the I-League title will once again go down the wire. The champion side will be decided in the last championship phase match on Saturday between Gokulam and Mohammedan Sporting Club, who beat Rajasthan United 2-0 earlier in the day at Kalyani.
With the defeat, Gokulam remained static at 40 points while Mohammedan Sporting are placed second, just three points behind on 37.
Sreenidi jumped to fourth place with 29 points from 17 matches.
In the Mohammedan Sporting vs Rajasthan United match, Brandon Vanlalremdika scored a brace to keep the Black Panthers in the title race.
Mohammedan took the lead in the second minute when Vanlalremdika scored from close range after being set up by Shaher Shaheen.
Vanlalremdika completed his double in the 56th minute as Mohammedan notched their 11th win in 17 matches. PTI