Kerala Blasters leap onto the top of the points table with a 1-0 win against Mohun Bagan Super Giant
A 9th-minute strike from Dimitrios Diamantakos earned three points for his side and brought him to the top of the Golden Boot race with seven goals. The Mariners’ dreadful run continued as they suffered a third consecutive loss and maiden defeat at the hands of the Tuskers in the Indian Super League.
The consequences of a disastrous home defeat at the hands of Goa led Juan Ferrando to make a whopping four changes into the starting XI.
The defensive duo of Hector Yuste and Asish Rai were brought back after serving a one-match suspension as Brendan Hamill and Manvir Singh made way for the duo. Hugo Boumous replaced Armando Sadiku while Kiyan Nassiri came in for Glan Martins to add some attacking intent.
Ivan Vukomanovic was forced to make a single change in the winning combination which recently ended the invincible run of Mumbai City. Midfielder Vibin Mohanan sustained an injury in the previous game and was replaced by another homegrown rising star Mohammed Azhar in central midfield.
The visitors kickstarted the play on an aggressive note while the MBSG defenders looked negligent in handling the early attacks. Kerala Blasters got closer in the 4th minute when an error from Asish gave away an opportunity for Diamantakos to open the scoreline but a crossbar finish eventually saved the Green and Maroon Brigade.
Kerala Blasters kept their earnest efforts to find an early breakthrough and they finally succeeded in making the scoreline 1-0 in the 9th minute. After intercepting a rebound shot, Dimitrios Diamantakos entered the 18-yard box with the ball and outsmarted three opponent defenders to net the opening goal of the night.
The former MBSG skipper Pritam Kotal who was playing against them for the first time since his move articulated rough defending and was also booked with a yellow card in the 22nd minute. In the final phase of the first half, Kwame Peprah got a goal-scoring opportunity from a similar position as Dimitrios but Subhasish Bose’s crucial deflection and alertness from Vishal Kaith prevented another crisis.
A miserable movement in the final third and failure to pull off counter-attacking moves kept the Mariners far away from the scoring equation in the first half. They could not even register a single shot throughout the 45 minutes as the scoreline progressed to 1-0 in favor of the Kochi-based outfit at the half-time whistle.
MBSG bossman Juan Ferrando adopted formational changes for the second half pulling Deepak Tangri back into the defense while promoting Asish Rai on the wings. This smart decision was working well for the Kolkata-based club as they started knitting fluent progressive moves right from the kick-off of the latter half.
Mohun Bagan thoroughly dominated the initial play forcing visitors on the backfoot and the only thing that kept them away from goal was the substandard coordination between their attackers. When even the formational changes were not enough to find the equalizer, the Mariners’ management opted for substitutions bringing in the likes of Sadiku, Hnamte, and Manvir.
These substitutional changes brought a surge of fresh energy into the Green and Maroon camp as Sadiku even had a golden opportunity to score through his first touch of the match. Meanwhile, substitution moves made by Vukomanovic indicated that the Tuskers had shifted their focus on defending the one-goal lead for the final minutes.
Rahul KP was on the verge of doubling the lead for the visitors when he found himself in a one-on-one situation with the Mariner goalie who daunted his shot with a robust save. The Indian international also collected his fourth yellow card of the season which will rule him out of the next fixture.
Vishal Kaith once again came up with a similar heroics minutes later when his incredible save against the Japanese midfielder Daisuke Sakai stunned the Tuskers and the play was consummated on the final scoreline of 2-0.
This defeat has sidelined the Green and Maroon Brigade out of the Top 4 as they are currently in the fifth position with 19 points from 10 games. On the other hand, the Yellow and Blues stay on the top of the table depending on the result of Goa’s final league fixture before the January break.
After registering their first away triumph of the 2023-24 ISL season, Kerala Blasters will be marching towards the Kalinga Super Cup competition with boosted confidence. Meanwhile, MBSG must regroup before heading for the Super Cup challenge as they have been drafted into a tough group with East Bengal and Hyderabad.