Minutes after Delhi Dynamos scored their opener, a giveaway offered them another chance to break at FC Goa's brittle defence. The ball fell to Richard Gadze, who till then, had been the man with the most chances. Gadze, weaved left and right, ran past one Goa player and then into him. There were three Delhi players who had sprinted up to support him, but it was all in vain.
During these moments, you could feel Florent Malouda's frustration. Stuck on the left channel, the Delhi marquee player turned, punched the air in disgust and even wagged at finger at Gadze's ineptitude. And all this when his team were in the lead. FC Goa coach Zico could've done with some of this passion from his players, many of whom looked like they would rather be somewhere else than on the pitch.
Malouda has been an enigma in the Indian Super League (ISL). He had the second most passes in the league last season, despite playing fewer minutes than Lucas Moura (who led the list) and was joint highest in terms of assists. This season, he is again in the top five, despite having played two matches fewer than those ahead of him on the list.
And yet, he still hasn't had a goal this season. And no assists either. Most of his work seems to be invisible to the naked eye. Too subtle for those watching, but important for those on the pitch.
He has been trudging along, delicately carving openings in opposition defences, splitting midfields, but seemingly to no avail. Last season, Robin Singh was the striker whom Malouda could feed his passes to; this season there is Gadze. Two men with completely different aptitudes, and ineptitudes.
Despite all the intricate play that defined a large part of the match, the opening goal had been a strictly one-pass affair. Antonio Doblas to Marcelinho. Turn, swivel, shoot. Marcelinho hits the top corner of the goal.
Delhi now had a genuine chance to take home three points from the Fatorda, which would have been their first win since their opener against Chennaiyin FC. Goa had been abject, despite having hit the post and almost chipped Doblas to open the scoring. The second was denied more due to Anas Edathodika' heroism than Doblas' fingertips, but the first must have really made Zico, and all the supporters, question why Mandar Rao Desai hadn't started for Goa before Sunday.
It was him and Romeo Fernandes who were at the centre, or in this case, the flanks of everything Goa created in the first half. They were constantly haranguing, and running around Delhi's wing-backs, dropping teasing crosses into the box, mostly in despair. The pair had been superb last season, and Zico has chosen to keep them on the bench this season, perhaps unsure of how good they were defensively, working against the break.
The problem is, Goa have always been a team with a leaky defence. They outscore their opponents, and Zico should've probably stuck to that philosophy.
At the other end was Malouda, who, when afforded five yards of space, made sure the ball was in the box, dangerously placed for Gadze or Badara Badji to play with. In the first half, this was mostly in the form of set-pieces. Romeo and Mandar's running meant he was mostly stuck to his box, clearing up for his defenders, but still through intricate passes and sublime movement.
Malouda's role in Delhi's second goal may be forgotten when the season is over, but truth be told, he was the architect of that attack on Goa.
Picking up the ball near the halfway line, in a position similar to what Gadze did earlier, Malouda drove at the Goa defence, albeit with a lot less pace and a lot more precision. He went wide, and forced his marker to follow, before suddenly changing tack to roll just a little inwards. The low pace of his run meant his support crew were all in place, should he decide to use them. While Gadze had looked to go it alone, and later, Marcelinho decided to shoot (successfully, for the opener), Malouda decided to pass. Without a glance upwards, he perfectly found Marcelinho, who in turn cushioned the ball down for Gadze to score.
If there was any lesson for the scorer in the pass, or perhaps even a rebuke, it wasn't felt in the celebration or the actions of anyone in the immediate moments after the goal. Much like most of Malouda's movement, and a lot of his play, the rebuke too was subtly delivered.
Marcelinho now finally has the goal he probably expected and Gadze the goal he definitely needed as Delhi signalled an important step under coach Gianluca Zambrotta. A visit to the Fatorda led to their implosion last season. Only Zico's defence collapsed this time out.
Delhi are looking good for a place in the knockouts now if they can listen to Malouda every now and then.
For Goa, every match will be a knockout now. They topped the table last time with 25 points to scream into the knockouts. To achieve the same target they need to win every match between now and the end of the month. If that seems impossible, then they need to get at least 20 points (an average of what the fourth place team has usually needed) to finish in the final playoff spot. That allows them very little space for performances like this.
There best chance for full points, and subsequently a recharging of confidence comes in their next two matches, against Pune and Kerala, teams immediately above them on the table. They will be grateful that they will be away from home for those. Home right now for Goa is not really where the heart is.