FC Goa jumped to the third place in league table behind leaders Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata after their emphatic 3-0 victory against Kerala Blasters FC in the home game on Wednesday. The score-line in Match 41 of the Hero Indian Super League may lead you to believe that the Kerala Blasters played a second fiddle. Far from it, the South Indian side played a closely fought game in the first half that didn’t produce any goals, although Goa had more opportunities than the Blasters. In the second half, however, the hosts combined superbly to win the game by a relatively big margin, as substitute Miroslav Slepicka scored a brace and Andre Santos got the other goal. Zico’s side was ripe for more but ex-England goalkeeper David James’ good work at the goal prevented Goa winning by a bigger margin. Kerala had their chances too, but they failed to make clean finishes. Kerala Blasters are now at the fourth place on inferior goal-difference with the same number of 15 points as Goa. Both teams have already played 11 matches and with just 3 matches left in the league, Goa and Kerala will need to maintain their winning tempo for qualifying for the semifinals. FC Goa preferred to play with the unchanged line-up that had beaten FC Pune City 2-0, while Kerala Blasters brought in Andrew Barisic and Ishfaq Ahmed in places of Iain Hume and Milagres Gonsalves.
It was one of those home matches, in which the locals got their money’s worth. The Goans are crazy about football and they came in large numbers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on November 26 to cheer their heroes. The start of the match was not sparkling and both sides played sluggish football in the early minutes. The first attacking move from Goa came in the 7th minute, when Mandar Rao Dessai sent a nice ball to Tolgay Ozbey on the left flank but his shot bounced back into the play. Though Andre Santos pounced on the rebound opportunity, KB goalkeeper David James made a great save to deny Goa. James made another reflex save to a header by Haroon Amiri, when Santos’ corner kick found Amiri totally unmarked. In the 9th minute, Kerala attacked on a counter with Stephen Pearson finding Barisic in a good position. But Barisic wasted the chance by a poor shot that went straight to the goalkeeper Jan Seda. KB earned a corner, a few minutes later, but Pearson’s nice delivery was wasted again as Godwin Franco’s shot from just out of the box sailed over the crossbar. Another attempt by Blasters went in vain as Jhinghan’s header from a free kick by Pearson also looped over the bar. Miroslav Slepicka appeared on the scene, when Ozbey had to leave the field in the 26th minute because of an injury.
As the first half drew to close, Goa made several attacks on the KB goal. Slepicka could easily have made use of a lovely cross from Romeo Fernandes but the ball flew away harmlessly. On another occasion, Andre Santos sent a perfect through ball to Mandar Dessai, who had only James to beat. But Mandar’s slowness allowed James to move forward and clear the ball with his legs for a corner. In the injury time added to the first half, James had come up to collect a cross but he missed it cleanly. Santos was nearby and his touch was headed to the goal. However, Gurwinder headed it away to safety.
In the second half, Kerala made two changes with Iain Hume and Milagres Gonsalves coming in places of Godwin Franco and Raphael Romey. The substitutions benefitted KB, who began by attacking straightaway. In the 47th minute, the combination of Hume and Gonsalves launched an attack on the Goa goal and the cross from Gonsalves found Barisic but the alert Jan Seda averted the danger. The deadlock was finally broken, when Goa earned a free kick in the 63rd minute after Narayan Das was brought down outside the box. Taking the free-kick, Andre Santos found Slepicka, who tapped in accurately. In a counter soon afterwards KB missed a chance, when Michael Chopra headed waywardly after receiving a great feed from Milagres. Goa enhanced their lead in the 69th minute, when Slepicka passed the ball to Romeo inside the box. Romeo saw Santos lurking at his back and sent the ball to him. Santos just needed to ward off Jhingan before shooting the ball past James to make it 2-0 for Goa. In the 79th minute, Slepicka finished his brace even as James made a good save but couldn’t prevent Slepicka from tucking the rebound back into the goal. Goa missed an opportunity for a 4-0 lead in the closing stages, when Jewel Raja shot wide after beating several defenders.
Kerala Blasters failed to sustain the late onslaught by Goa and lost their final away match of the season. All their remaining three matches will be played in Kochi, beginning with a game against Chennaiyin FC on November 30, while FC Goa take on NorthEast United FC in their final home game on December 1.