Diamantakos and Luna make Vukomanovic’s return memorable as Kerala Blasters win 2-1
After a draw and a defeat, Kerala Blasters returned to winning ways in superb style as they overturned a deficit to beat Odisha 2-1 in the third match of matchday 5 of the 2023-24 Indian Super League season.
Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic returned on the sidelines after serving his 10-match suspension and made one change to the team that drew against NorthEast United. Rahul KP slotted in on the right flank as skipper Luna moved up top to partner Kwame Peprah up front and Diamantakos had to drop to the bench.
On the other hand, Odisha coach Sergio Lobera made wholesale changes after a 2-3 defeat against Goa. Narender Gehlot, Aniket Jadhav, Cy Goddard, and Diego Mauricio were introduced in the starting XI with Carlos Delgado, Lenny Rodrigues, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, and Roy Krishna making way for the incoming quartet.
The Tuskers had the better start, with Rahul almost making an instant impact. After receiving a pass from Peprah in the third minute of the game, he pulled the trigger and managed to keep his shot on target, but Amrinder Singh made a good save keeping out the early threat.
Rahul had another attempt in the 11th minute which was blocked, whereas only a minute later, Pritam Kotal had the chance to open the scoring from a Daisuke Sakai corner but the former Mohun Bagan SG defender could not keep his header on target.
All these missed chances came back to haunt Kerala Blasters, as Mauricio opened the scoring for Odisha in the 15th minute. A pass from Goddard found the Brazilian striker in space, and although he did have two defenders rushing towards him, Mauricio managed to somehow place his shot into the back of the net.
The Kalinga Warriors could have had a second goal only six minutes later when midfielder Ahmed Jahouh tried his luck from a distance but Kerala Blasters’ goalkeeper Sachin Suresh was up to the task this time around.
A handball from Naocha Singh gave Lobera’s team a golden opportunity to extend their lead but Suresh came up with an excellent save to keep the scoreline 1-0 yet again.
The later stages of the first half once again saw the Tuskers finding their rhythm back but the forwards lacked the finishing touch to make it count. In the 34th minute, a cross from Sandeep Singh found Peprah unmarked but his shot was wayward and Rahul had a similar opportunity a few minutes later but he was wasteful as well.
The second half started in favor of Vukomanovic’s side as the hosts created most of the chances in the first ten minutes of the second period. Midfielders Danish Farooq and Vibin Mohanan tried their luck, but neither could score the equaliser.
The likes of Peprah, Sakai, and Luna tried all they could to get Kerala back in the game, but it was finally done by super-sub Diamantakos in the 66th minute. Receiving a ball from Sakai, the Greek striker found himself one-on-one with Amrinder and he beautifully dinked the ball past the experienced custodian.
The second goal nearly arrived just three minutes later as Diamantakos was causing Odisha’s defenders all sorts of problems. This time around, it was a pass from Luna which saw him through on goal but the former Olympiacos striker went for power instead of precision here and ended up hitting his shot straight at Amrinder.
In the 82nd minute, a cross from Isak Vanlalruatfela found new signing Pranjal Bhumij unmarked, but the Assamese striker’s header was saved by Suresh.
In the 84th minute, it was Vukomanovic’s team who had the last laugh as a diagonal ball landed at Luna’s feet and Jerry Lalrinzuala made a mess of what should have been an easy clearance allowing the Uruguayan to chip his shot over Amrinder into the far corner.
The Tuskers could have even had a third, when two emerging talents, Mohammed Aimen and Mohammed Azhar combined well in the 89th minute but the latter was wasteful in front of the goal.
With this win, Kerala Blasters have climbed to the second position in the points table for the time being with 10 points in the bag from 5 matches. The Tuskers will now face East Bengal on Saturday.
Odisha is seventh in the league standings with 4 points from the same number of matches and will be up against Bengaluru on Tuesday before hosting NorthEast United on Friday after a quick turnaround.