Kerala Blasters barges into the Top 3 with a nail-biting victory over Odisha

Boxing Day Celebrations in style!

Kerala Blasters edged past the challengers from the land of Odisha by 1-0 to climb up to the third position in the 2022-23 Indian Super League standings. 

A late winner from the Kerala Blasters defender Sandeep Singh Soraisam ensured that their unbeaten run of seven straight matches was kept alive. The Tuskers gave a Christmas treat to their devoted supporters Manjappada who turned up in mighty numbers at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. 

The Blasters’ head coach Ivan Vukonamovic made only a single change to his 4-4-2 formation lineup which was fielded by him in the recent Southern Derby with Chennaiyin. The veteran defender Jessel Carneiro replaced Nishu Kumar in the left-back position and also reclaimed the prestigious captain’s armband. 

Meanwhile, the visiting gaffer made a couple of changes to his Starting XI and turned up for the Kochi fixture with a fresh combination. The familiar faces of Diego Mauricio and Jerry Mawihmingthanga were kept on the bench while Nandha Kumar and Victor Rodriguez got the nod.

The very first close call of the battlefield at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium came in the third minute when Raynier Fernandes’ curly strike was hurled away by the crossbar. It was followed by a fine clearance from Ivan Kalyuzhnyi rescuing the goalie Prabhsukhan Gill from an early heartbreak. 

The Bhubaneswar-based outfit kept threatening the home side through a few more attacking moves in the early stages of the match. However, it could not affect the Tuskers much as they went on to respond to each and every raid of their counterparts with affirmative defensive play. 

At this point, the momentum was slowly shifting towards Yellow and Blues as their offensive knights Kalyuzhnyi and Dimitrios Diamantakos were seen launching steady attacks. A heated moment between Prabhsukhan Gill and Nandha Kumar during a free-kick in the 30th minute saw the referee penalizing both players with a yellow card.

In the final moments of the first half, the home-grown KBFC winger Rahul KP also received a yellow card marking it team’s fourth in the first-half action. Vukonamovic must have given a special lecture to his players for their disciplinary actions as the number of fouls (8) and yellow cards (4) committed by them was relatively much higher. Meanwhile, the visitors came closest to breaking the scoreline deadlock through Raynier’s early attempt. 

Captain Delgado bravely fought for the Odisha pride till the end

Captain Delgado bravely fought for the Odisha pride till the end 

The home team kick-started the second-half action with an aggressive approach which resulted in their offensive unit creating some early attacking moves. The constant pressure on the backline of the Juggernauts was visible throughout the initial stages of the second half. 

The Tuskers continued their diligent efforts to somehow find a breakthrough and the only thing which kept them away from the goal was the lack of quality finish. The Mizo winger Jerry Mawihmingthanga was the first player to step onto the battlefield gracing from the substitute bench in the 58th minute of this fixture. Kalinga boss Josep Gombau then went on to bring the club’s all-time top-scorer Diego Mauricio as his trump card. 

Vukonamovic responded to Odisha’s move with a double-change by bringing in the local lad Nihal Sudheesh and forward Apostolos Giannou for the action of the last 20 minutes. Before departing from the pitch in the 83rd minute, Starboy Sahal Abdul Samad created a few major chances especially a key pass to Nihal and an acrobatic effort right after that. 

The two-time ISL-winning goalkeeper Amrinder Singh made an error during clearance in the 79th minute which left the goal-mouth open; however, Narender Gehlot managed to clear the danger.

The Mumbai-born winger Bryce Miranda kept releasing crosses from the left flank and one of them eventually turned out to be the bull’s-eye which turned the tables around. Amrinder completely misjudged it and failed to clear off as Sandeep racing from behind headed it directly into the net to break the deadlock. 

The Boys in Yellow successfully defended their tiny lead for the remaining five minutes of play and brought a wave of happiness in the Manjappada stands at the full-time whistle of referee Pratik Mondal.

It was one of those nights when the Juggernauts would be regretting not ending up on the winning side despite putting in a lot of hard work throughout the 90 minutes. The Kalinga Warriors left no stone unturned to extend their claim on match points but just one header out of nowhere turned their diligent efforts into nothing.

The Kochi-based club will be enjoying new year celebrations in Kerala as their forthcoming fixture against defending ISL League Winners’ Shield holders Jamshedpur is also scheduled at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Meanwhile, the Eastern Dragons will be heading back to the capital city of Odisha to host the table-toppers Mumbai City in the first match of the 2023 calendar year.