In their home game against Atletico de Kolkata on Friday night, Kerala Blasters played fighting football and scored a 2-1 victory against the visitors. The packed crowd of 57000 at Kochi’s Nehru Stadium could not have asked for more as goals from Iain Hume and Pedro Gusmao put the home team 2-0 ahead at halftime. Although KB had the victory margin reduced in the second half by a Fikru Teferra goal, the match belonged to them in the end despite ATK exerting heavy pressure in the second half. In the injury time, a powerful shot from ATK’s Luis Garcia looked like having crossed the goal-line after hitting the underside of crossbar, the referee disallowed the goal. With Friday’s victory Kerala Blasters have jumped to the third spot with 15 points behind Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata.
The match began with Atletico de Kolkata mounting a scorching attack in the second minute. Borja Fernandez played a high ball that bypassed the entire defense and landed near Fikru Teferra. Fikru went on the run and had all the time in the world and all he needed to do was to beat the KB goalkeeper David James. But the Ethiopian wasted a golden opportunity, when his shot lacked the punch and James made a fine diving save. In a counter attack, two minutes later, Pedro fed a lovely chip from wide on the left flank. Sahni and Jofre couldn’t do anything as the ball went straight through to KB’s Scottish striker Iain Hume, who had understood Pedro’s intent. Hume went charging in even as all ATK defenders were jumbled out of place. ATK goalkeeper Subhasish was caught in two minds about whether or not to come out of his position and block Hume. But Hume shot powerfully to slot the ball in the right corner and made it 1-0 for KB. Another Blasters’ forward Stephen Pearson exercised great presence of mind as he jumped away to avoid any possible contact with the ball. He didn’t have to fiddle as the ball was destined to strike the net anyway. If he had touched that ball, the goal would have been disallowed because Pearson was quite clearly off-side. With a goal scored so soon against them, ATK brought frenetic pace in the game and almost succeeded in getting an equalizer in the sixth minute, when Arnal ran through and made a strong strike. However, KB custodian James had the presence of mind to come out of his position to clear the ball away. In the 8th minute, KB got lucky when ATK’s Lester Fernandes sent a lovely cross in the box and Raphael Romey’s header went over the crossbar. Both side raided each other’s goal area several times in the first half but the most promising attack came from ATK in the 24th minute, when Fikru produced an out-of-the world bicycle kick to surprise the KB goalkeeper. Luckily the Ethiopian’s acrobatic attempt sailed over the crossbar. KB engineered a counter immediately through a Pearson-Hume-Franco Combination but the strike missed the ATK goal. In 36th minute, ATK goalkeeper Subhashish came up a brilliant piece of goalkeeping, when he saved two back-to-back attempts from Pearson and Gusamo. Hume had sent a back-pass to Pearson that was blocked by the ATK custodian and then he was alert enough to also save a rebound attempt by Gusamo. In the 41st minute, Kerala took a 2-0 lead, when Jhingan’s lovely cross from right flank was beautifully slotted in by Gusamo. The teams went for the break with KB leading 2-0.
In the second half, ATK brought in Luis Garcia for Arnal Llibert while Kingkshuk Debnath came in place of Lestor Fernandes. Garcia’s presence energized Kolkata as he and Fikru combined to raid the KB goal. In the 55th minute, Fikru finally succeeded in breaking his 4-match goal drought, when he found himself perfectly positioned to receive a touch pass from Kingshuk Debnath. The Ethiopian made no mistake in putting the ball past James and reduced KB’s lead to 2-1. For the next 15 minutes, the play remained confined to the midfield as neither side could find any goal-scoring chances. With 10 minutes remaining, Borja lost the ball to KB’s Milagres, who moved dangerously towards the goal but he was tackled by the experienced Josemi and ATK averted the danger. KB got another chance in the 83rd minute, when Godwin Franco attempted an angular strike from right but it struck the crossbar even as Subhasish had strayed from his post. In the injury time, Jofre sent a cross to the far post, where Fikru’s header fell near Garcia. The ATK captain drove it hard and as the shot struck the underside of the crossbar, it fell at least two feet over the goal-line before bouncing out. It was clearly a goal but the linesman ruled it out. The controversial call cost ATK one point as they prepare to go to Pune for an away game on November 29. On their part, Kerala also has an away game in Goa on November 26.