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 April 27, 2002 | 2110 IST

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Air India's promotion hopes suffer a setback

Air India's chances of promotion received a setback after they were beaten 2-1 by State Bank of Travancore in a sixth round match, in the Second Division National Football League (final phase) in Pondicherry on Saturday.

All the three goals came in the second session. Abdul Noushad and Ignatius scored in the 51st and 75th minutes for SBT. Tomba Singh reduced the margin for Air India in the 58th minute.

Air India, who needed to win the match to consolidate their chances of qualifying for the first division in the next edition of the NFL, missed many chances and paid the price for their prodigality.

Air India have 10 points while SBT's tally rose to seven.

After a barren first half, Noushad opened the scoring with a fine left-footer from the right flank, in the 51st minute. Stung by the reverse, Air India mounted pressure and restored parity seven minutes later through Tomba Singh.

A few minutes earlier, SBT goalkeeper Harshad Rehman was given marching orders by referee Musthaq Pasha for charging out and making a dangerous, sliding tackle on Tomba Singh.

Referee Pasha's poor supervision saw him lose control of the match. He flashed four yellow cards and one red. Three of the yellow and the red went to SBT. It was surprising that he failed to book the coaches of both teams too. During the match, both coaches kept shouting from the sideline, disputing some of his decisions.

With 15 minutes left for the long whistle, Ignatius got the match-winner for SBT, beating Air India custodian Irsat Kamaal.

Later, Pax of Nagoa, Goa, and Bhratri Sangh Kolkata played out a drab, goalless draw and in another sixth round match. With this draw, the chances of the two qualifying almost evaporated as Pax have eight points while Bhratri have just four points.

Even though Pax dominated the proceedings they failed to convert the chances that came their way.

Air India protest against referee

Air India later registered an official protest against the referee. In a letter handed over to Match Commissioner T R Govindarajan, their coach, Bimal Ghosh, complained about the refereeing, manhandling of himself and lack of security for his players.

After the match was over, the Air India players surrounded the referee and got into an argument with him. Some plainclothes policemen too entered the ground and made matters worse by catching the Air India coach and players by their collars and pushing them out of the ground.