Milos Drincic turns hero for Kerala Blasters on his return

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Milos Drincic scored the only goal of the match

Kerala Blasters reclaimed their place at the top of the 2023-24 Indian Super League standings as they handed Hyderabad a 1-0 defeat at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.

Though his team came into this match on the back of a win against East Bengal, Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic made two changes to his starting XI. After serving his three-game suspension, Drincic returned at the expense of Sandeep Singh. In Dimitrios Diamantakos’ absence, Adrian Luna played as a striker alongside Kwame Peprah, with Mohammed Aimen slotting in at left wing.

On the other hand, Hyderabad coach Thangboi Singto made wholesale changes to the team that drew 1-1 against ISL’s new boys, Punjab. Oswaldo Alanis, Mohammed Rafi, Mohammad Yasir and Jonathan Moya were handed starts, with Nim Dorjee Tamang, Joao Victor, Felipe Amorim, and Aaren D’Silva making way for them.

Kerala Blasters dominated possession in the initial exchanges, but the first change fell for the Nizams. In the 10th minute, Yasir and Moya nearly proved their coach right when the former’s ball found the latter inside the box, but the Costa Rican striker could not keep his header on target.

Moya looked lively for Hyderabad and had another chance in the 18th minute. This time, Rafi found the former Deportivo Saprissa striker with a pass, but Moya could not utilize this chance.

The chances kept on coming for the Nizams as just one minute later, Petteri Pennanen found Alanis unmarked inside the box with a cross. However, the Mexican central defender’s header was saved by Sachin Suresh.

It took Kerala Blasters 20 minutes to register their first attempt when Daisuke Sakai decided to try his luck from a distance. A few minutes later, Luna tried a similar attempt, but both the Japanese and the Uruguayan star failed to find the target.

The biggest chance of the first half came in the 34th minute when Sakai floated in an inch-perfect cross from the right flank, which found Drincic completely unmarked inside the box. Unfortunately for the Tuskers, the Montenegrin centre-back blasted his header high.

Only a minute later, Hyderabad got a similar opportunity when Yasir laid off a similar cross for Moya who could not open the scoring for his team as Kerala maintained the 0-0 scoreline.

Naocha Huidrom Singh was solid in defense once again

The goal eventually arrived in the 41st minute, with Drincic making amends for his previous miss. This time, a brilliant pass from Aimen split the Hyderabad defense open and found Luna on the right flank, who then played a grounded cross for Drincic. The former Shakhtyor Soligorsk player then had the easiest of strikes to push the ball into an empty net.

However, that was not the last chance of the first half. In additional time, Rafi played a cross for Pennanen, but Hyderabad attackers continued to be wasteful as the Finnish player could not find the target either.

The second half saw the Tuskers making a bright start once again, as just seven minutes after the resumption, Luna found Drincic with a cross yet again. This time, however, Drincic was not as clinical.

The next few minutes saw the Nizams trying to throw the kitchen sink at Kerala Blasters. Joe Knowles had a few chances, while Pennanen got yet another opportunity. But none of their attacks ultimately amounted to anything.

Against the run of play, Kerala Blasters almost doubled their advantage in the 69th minute when Rahul KP blasted down the right flank before attempting a pass for Peprah, which would have found the Nigerian through on goal. However, Gurmeet Singh threw a foot at the right time to avoid the danger.

Hyderabad was still not done in their continuous pursuit of an equalizer, as they had another good chance in the 94th minute. Left-back Vignesh Dakshinamurthy floated in a sublime cross from the left flank which found Knowles unmarked inside the box, but the Australian winger directed his cross straight at Suresh.

The last chance of the game came in the very last minute of the match, from one of the more unlikely sources. Alanis played a ball for substitute Ramhlunchhunga, who did really well to keep his long-range effort on target. However, the Mizo youngster could not become a hero for his team as Suresh was up to the task once again.After this win, Kerala Blasters are back at the top with 16 points in 7 matches. They will now take on Chennaiyin on Wednesday while Hyderabad, who are 11th with just 3 points in 7 matches, will be up against Mohun Bagan Super Giant on Saturday.