Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin share points in a six-goal thriller

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Rahim Ali scored the first goal of the match in the first minute

Kerala Blasters reclaimed their place at the top of the 2023-24 Indian Super League standings after drawing 3-3 against Chennaiyin at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.

Though his team came into this match on the back of a win against Hyderabad, Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic made three changes to his starting XI for the Southern Derby. Prabir Das, Rahul KP, and the fit-again Dimitrios Diamantakos returned to the starting XI at the expense of Pritam Kotal, Mohammed Aimen, and Daisuke Sakai.

On the other hand, Chennaiyin head coach Owen Coyle also made three changes to the team that drew 1-1 against East Bengal. The suspended Ryan Edwards and the attacking duo of Vincy Barreto and Farukh Choudhary were replaced by Lazar Circovic, Ninthoingba Meetei, and Rahim Ali.

Kerala Blasters started off the match by fouling Rafael Crivellaro inside the first 20 seconds. The Brazilian took the resulting free-kick and found Ali unmarked inside the penalty area and the Indian international backheeled the ball catching Sachin Suresh by surprise as the ball rolled over the goal line opening the scoring within the first 55 seconds of the fixture.

In the 8th minute, the Blasters got their first chance as Diamantakos set up Kwame Peprah with a perfectly weighted header but the striker’s shot went straight into the hands of Debjit Majumder.

A couple of minutes later, Peprah was brought down inside the penalty area by Ajith Kumar and Diamantakos stepped up to take the penalty. The Greek striker made Majumder dive the wrong way and slotted the ball in the back of the net to send the Manjappada crowd singing in delight.

A few moments after the restart, Naocha Singh went flying into Rafael Crivellaro inside the penalty area to gift the away side with a chance to take the lead once again. Jordan Murray took the perfect penalty in the bottom corner as Sachin dived in the right direction but couldn’t even get a finger to the ball.

In the 19th minute, the Blasters goalkeeper spilt a simple catch from a corner and Ali helped the ball over the line but the referee deemed it as a foul by the Marina Machans forward.

A quick counter-attack from Chennaiyin and a visionary pass from Ayush Adhikari found Murray one-on-one with Sachin and the Australian striker found the back of the net with a neat finish giving his side a two-goal cushion

In the 38th minute, Adrian Luna attempted a shot from a considerable distance and the ball ricocheted off a Chennaiyin defender in the path of Peprah who displayed a beautiful strike from his left foot scoring his first goal for the Tuskers and reducing the deficit to a single goal.

Before the first half could end, Ali went down in a heap and had to be taken off as Coyle made the first change of the evening bringing on Choudhary for the injured forward. Cirkovic also avoided a red card for a silly lunging challenge into the back of Vibin Mohanan as the referee decided to let the defender walk away even without a warning.

Dimitrios Diamantakos shone for the Blasters once again

The second half saw the Tuskers making a bright start once again while Chennaiyin also had a promising set-piece but the Blasters equalized with another wonder goal as the Greek striker was found by Danish Farooq and he fired the ball past Majumder from more than 20 yards.

Diamantakos became the all-time top-scorer for the Kerala-based side with 16 goals for the club in all competitions etching his name in the record books.

Coyle responded to the goal with a couple of changes as Barreto and Sarthak Golui came on for Meetei and Bikash Yumnam. For the home side, Kotal and Aimen came on for Prabir and Rahul KP at the hour mark as Vukamanovic added some steel to his side. 

Pritam made his first ISL substitute appearance after starting all of the previous 150 ISL matches in which he has featured for his side. In a game of many goals, another striker came off the bench as Ishan Pandita replaced Peprah who was having some issues around the 75th-minute mark while Marko Leskovic replaced Hormipam Ruivah as Vukamanovic continues to battle the hectic schedule of the Blasters.

In the 78th minute, Murray tried to replicate Garnacho’s spectacular goal from the weekend’s match between Manchester United and Everton but the Chennaiyin striker’s shot went way off target.

The last few minutes saw the Blasters trying to throw the kitchen sink at the away side and the Manjappada crowd was silenced in the fifth minute of injury time as Diamantakos laid off the ball for Drincic who set up the perfect tap-in for Daisuke but the substitute somehow fired wide from less than two yards distance.

After the draw, Kerala Blasters are back at the top with 17 points in 8 matches. They will now take on Goa on Sunday at the Fatorda Stadium while Chennaiyin sits in the seventh position with 8 points from 8 matches. The Marina Machans will now take on Coyle’s former side Jamshedpur on Thursday.