Kerala Blasters edge East Bengal 2-1 to go top of the table
In the sixth match of matchday 6 of the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, Kerala Blasters got a 2-1 win over East Bengal at the Torchbearers’ den in Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan. Daisuke Sakai and Dimitrios Diamantakos were on the scoresheet for the Tuskers while Cleiton Silva was the lone scorer for East Bengal.
Though his team came into this game on the back of a 1-2 defeat against Goa, East Bengal coach Carles Cuadrat did not make a single change in his starting XI, which irked the majority of the fanbase.
On the other hand, Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic made one change to his team despite winning the last game against Odisha by a 2-1 margin. Diamantakos came into the starting XI at the expense of Rahul KP while forming the two-man forward line alongside the Ghanaian striker Kwame Peprah as Adrian Luna moved back to midfield.
Kerala Blasters started the game on the front foot with two chances being created inside the first five minutes. While Danish Farooq had his shot blocked, Peprah dragged his attempt wide.
Vukomanovic’s team reaped the rewards of the continuous pressure in the 32nd minute when Sakai opened the scoring. Despite being crowded out in the midfield, Luna somehow threaded a pass for the former Japan U20 international, who first switched the ball from his left foot to his stronger right side, before placing the shot into the far corner past a diving Prabhsukhan Gill.
It took East Bengal a whopping 44 minutes to have their first chance, which was a half-chance at best. Receiving the ball at the edge of the box, Silva spotted a run from Harmanjot Singh Khabra from the midfield and back-heeled the ball to his path, but the latter could not score against his former employers as his shot was not on target.
Farooq launched a powerful shot from outside of the box after receiving the ball from Diamantakos, but his attempt was blocked once again in the last chance of the first half.
Whatever Cuadrat told his players at the break did have an effect as East Bengal looked much livelier in the second half. Naorem Mahesh was once again the live wire on the flanks, as Kerala Blasters’ defenders had their hearts in their mouths on multiple occasions.
After receiving a headed layoff from Javier Siverio in the 54th minute, the Manipuri winger pulled the trigger but got his attempt blocked. Only a minute later, Mohamed Rakip made a darting run down the right flank before finding Silva in space, who then played a through ball for Mahesh. However, Sandeep Singh made a great run to block Mahesh’s shot again.
In the 56th minute, the Jordanian central defender could have become a local hero in his debut for East Bengal, as a cross from the left flank by Mandar Rao Dessai found him unmarked but his header was saved by Sachin Suresh.
The flurry of missed chances continued as only five minutes later, Mahesh found Siverio in acres of space inside the box. Unfortunately for the hosts, the Spanish striker headed the ball wide.
Against the run of play, Kerala had a chance in the 62nd minute when Luna threaded a sublime pass for Sandeep down the right flank, but the right-back’s powerful attempt was saved by Gill. The next few minutes saw Kerala Blasters’ attackers wasting a few opportunities, including goal-scorer Sakai and the highly-rated Peprah.
In the 83rd minute, Nandhakumar Sekar pulled the trigger from outside the box and struck a rapid shot straight at Suresh, who failed to make a clean grab. The ball slipped out of his grasp and landed at Mahesh’s feet, who was then brought down by the Tuskers’ goalkeeper, giving East Bengal a penalty.
What happened next will be spoken about for a long time, as Suresh made two consecutive penalty saves to deny Silva. While the first save was voided as the youngster had left the goalline before the Brazilian striker’s attempt, he backed it up with another stunning save to preserve Kerala’s lead by diving in the right direction as Silva fired the rebound into the crowd.
To make matters worse for East Bengal, Vukomanovic’s team scored a second in the 88th minute. A harmless ball from Sandeep should easily have been dealt with by East Bengal players, but a huge mix-up between Rakip and VP Suhair found Diamantakos through on goal.
The former Olympiacos striker would never have missed the chance which was served on a silver platter by the hosts but the experienced forward made a blunder as he got a second booking of the evening for taking off his jersey in the goal celebration and left the Blasters down to 10 men for the remainder of the match.
East Bengal did get a goal back in the 99th minute when a handball by Sandeep got them another penalty. Silva was third-time lucky as he found the top corner but the goal was nothing more than a consolation for the disgruntled home fans.With this defeat, East Bengal is now struggling at the 10th position in the league table, with just 4 points in 5 games. They will now take on Chennaiyin on 25th November after the international break, while Kerala Blasters, who are at the top of the table with 13 points in 6 games, will host Hyderabad later on the same day.