Hanging at the fifth spot, hosts Kerala Blasters missed a solid opportunity to break into the last four as their match against NorthEast United FC ended in a goalless draw on Thursday at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi. The highlanders were down to 10-men after the 75th minute red card to James Keene for violent behavior after a bad challenge from Kerala striker Michael Chopra. Incidentally Chopra was also booked for the dangerous tackle. But Blasters failed to cash on the reduced strength of their opponents. It was a bitterly fought match, in which Kerala Blasters came close to scoring on several occasions but couldn’t fructify their chances in the end. The Hero Indian Super League is already into the end of the league phase and every team wants to collect maximum points from these last few games. Kerala and Goa are two teams, who have returned spirited performances over the last 2-3 weeks after their listless forays in the early stages of the league. Although, KB had lost their last two matches against FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC, they still have better chances than other teams. On Thursday, they were also keen to avenge their earlier 1-0 defeat by NEUFC on October 13 at Guwahati. For NEUFC too, anything less than a clear win was akin to signing themselves off from the ISL’s knock-out phase.
The starting line-ups on both sides had undergone massive changes. Kerala Blasters had brought in Cedric Hengbert, Nirmal Chettri, Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Sandip Nandy, Victor Herrero in places of CS Sabeeth, Raphael Romey, Abhinabo, Sandesh Jhingan, Colin Falvey and David James. NEUFC also had replaced Adinga, Isaac Chansa, Boithang and Koke with James Keene, Joan Capdevila, Robin Gurung and Len Doungel. As the match began, both sides launched attacks on each other but some raids and shots were too optimistic. Blasters earned a corner in the 2nd minute and NEUFC got one three minutes later, but defenders on either side were able to fend off these attempts. In 17th minute, NEUFC’s Len Doungel was served a yellow card for a rough tackle with KB’s Cedric Hengbart. The desperation to score by both teams was evident by the rough play all through the match in which 4 yellows and 1 red were flagged. KB missed a good opportunity in 23rd minute, when Stephen Pearson had the ball just outside the box but he couldn’t beat NEUFC goalkeeper Rehenesh. In the 30th minute, Kerala earned a yellow card, when Mehtab Hossain was booked for pulling Kondwani Mtonga’s shirt. Kerala got another chance in 33rd minute from a free-kick just outside of the box but Jamie McAllister wasted it with a wayward strike. KB’s next close chance came in the 39th minute from a corner but Nirmal Chettri headed the ball away. NEUFC also had a close chance with Massamba Lo Sambou having the ball at the edge of the box in the 41st minute but Sambou’s shot went over the crossbar. Three minutes of injury time was added after 45 minutes. In the second minute, Felipe de Castro’s kick was on target but KB goalkeeper Sandip Nandy affected a good save. At the stroke of halftime, KB’s star player Iain Hume was yellow-carded for wrongly obstructing NEUFC goalkeeper Rehenesh who attempted a clearance. The teams went out of the field for the break with the score reading 0-0.
The second half began in much the same way as the first with both teams trying to break the deadlock. The first opportunity came in 55th minute, when KB’s Pearson got a nice pass from the right but he kicked it over the goal. One minute later, Iain Hume had a close-range chance but Hume’s shot landed straight in Rehenesh’s hands. KB brought in Michael Chopra in place of Victor Herrero Forcada in the 63rd minute. In the 66th minute, KB got a corner but that was wasted. NorthEast also made a substitution in the 67th minute, when Alen Deory was inducted in place of Seiminlen Doungel. A close chance came for KB in the 69th minute, when Nirmal Chettri’s header from a corner hit the side-post. In the 75th minute, Chopra was booked for a rough tackle on James Keene but Keene got physical with Chopra and earned a red card. NEUFC were down to 10 men for the rest of the match. In 84th minute, Michael Chopra got a pass inside the box but he headed over the crossbar. In the last five minutes several substitution were made by both teams in a desperate bid to gain ascendency in the match but even after four minutes were added to the regulation period, the match ended in a goalless draw, the 10th such result in the ISL this year.