Mumbai: Arif Shaikh struck twice as Pune FC topped the Maharashtra Zone with a comfortable 5-2 win over Kenkre FC in an U-19 I-League round 8 encounter at the Cooperage Ground, here today.
The three points earned meant Pune FC took their tally to 19 points at the end of the zonal round and took the top spot from DSK Shivajians (19 pts), thanks to a better goal difference.
The result also extended Pune FC's unbeaten run to six games. It also continues the unbeaten run in away games, with the team securing four back-to-back wins, making it a one hundred per cent away record.
Prakash Sarkar (9th minute), Shaikh (23rd & 88th), Akshay Pashilkar (41st) and Farukh Choudhary (43rd) scored for Pune, while Kenkre FC reduced the margin of defeat with the help of Yash Mhatre (19th, 46th minute), who pulled two goals back in each half of the game.
Pune FC went on the offensive from the opening minute of the game as Sannik Murmu ran from the left flank past the Kenkre defenders only to be denied by the custodian.
For all the offensives that Pune FC led from the two flanks and the centre, it took them only nine minutes in the first half to open the scoring.
The attack led by Sannik down the left saw him release the ball to Farukh who in turn passed it to Prakash in the centre who fired a salvo past a diving Kenkre custodian.
After the goal, the hosts began a counter offensive on the Pune FC goal, leaving custodian Sukhadev Patil rooted to the spot after an ill-timed foul earned Kenkre FC a free kick just outside the box. Yash Mhatre stepped up and shot it into the top left corner to equalise.
However, in the 23rd minute a brilliant long ball from defender Myron Mendes from the Pune FC half saw the ball reach captain Altamash Sayed. He in turn passed it to Arif in the centre who gently tapped it in.
An incident involving eagles swooping down on the Kenkre custodian Joe Paul saw the game being held up for a few minutes in the last quarter. When the game resumed the Kenkre defence looked shaky which Pune exploited to the hilt.
The 41st minute of the game saw Altamash run down the centre and pass the ball to Akshay Pashilkar who chipped the ball down the left bottom.
Two minutes later, Farukh came to the party as Pune FC opened the flood gates. Altamash was at the centre of the scoring as he passed the ball to Farukh who went round the Kenkre keeper and tapped it in. Pune went into the half time with a comfortable 4-1 lead.
The second half, however, began on a completely different note as a long cross from Sekhar Bhattacharya saw the ball reach Mhatre who headed it in past Sukhadev.
Thereafter the game remained confined to end to end action where Pune FC kept dominating attacks but they lacked the final finish. In fact, a brilliant run by Arif which saw him finish the move with a goal ended in heartbreak as it was ruled offside.
The last goal of the game came in the dying minutes. With Kenkre committing all players forward, there was little room for an error. However, a defensive frailty in the 88th minute saw the ball reach Arif, from a Pune FC corner on the right. He calmly collected the ball and drilled it past the Kenkre custodian to seal the game.