Uttam Singh is turning out to be Air-India's trump card in the ongoing I-League a la Stoke City's midfielder Rory Delap.
The Manipuri sweeper's patented long throw ins finally prised open JCT's rugged defense, paving the way for substitute Samson Singh to score the match winner in the 85th minute in a seventh round match at the Cooperage on Sunday.
Ironically, it was again a short man who got the goal for Air-India from this unusual set piece.
The 1-0 victory extended Air-India's winning streak on their home turf in this tournament and helped them to fly high to 14 points and second place, four behind leaders Sporting Clube de Goa. The Phagwara outfit, who were decidedly superior on Sunday and did not deserve to lose, stuttered to their second defeat and continue to remain in fifth spot with nine points.
It was a faulty clearance by international stopper back Anwar Ali, a rare blemish, which resulted in the throw in from the right flank that led to Air-India's goal. Ali and his colleague Julius Akpele at the heart of the JCT defense, gave nothing way and neutralized Air-India's occasional attacks with solid panache.
The home side, who were subdued in the first half and could not get their speedy wingers going, did create some golden opportunities as the game drew to a close with substitute Emmanuel Oveighara finding the cross bar with an acrobatic back header in the 85th minute.
Three minutes later the Nigerian striker was fractionally out of position to finish a lightning counter from the left even as Michael Tayo got to the ball and had his try deflected by goalkeeper Karanjit for a corner.
JCT had the measure of their opponents in the first session in which Eduardo Escobar da Silva was a livewire and a constant threat to the local fortress. The Brazilian was responsible for almost all the attempts and the plays and also threatened from his set pieces. However, his striking partner Balwant was not up to the challenge and was replaced after the change over by Harvinder who proved to be equally ineffective.
With the Brazilian fading out and not proving to be the same danger in the second session, Air-India were able to come more into the game. But they were even more successful in also blunting the edge of JCT's attacks with their robust tactics.
Luckily, the free kicks they conceded in the critical areas did not prove costly.