Sahal Abdul Samad’s goal takes Kerala Blasters one step closer to the final

Sahal Abdul Samad scored the only goal of the match

Kerala Blasters took a massive stride towards the final as they defeated Jamshedpur by a slender 1-0 margin in the first leg of ‘Semi-Final 1’ of the 2021-22 Indian Super League season. Sahal Abdul Samad scored the solitary goal of the match.

Jamshedpur head coach Owen Coyle made one change to the team that lifted the ISL League Winners’ Shield by beating ATK Mohun Bagan, as PC Laldinpuia replaced Laldinliana Renthlei in the right-back position.

On the other hand, Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic made five changes to his starting XI after a 4-4 stalemate against Goa. Harmanjot Khabra, Ruivah Hormipam, Puitea, Adrian Luna and Alvaro Vazquez came in for Sandeep Singh, Enes Sipovic, Givson Singh, Chencho Gyeltshen and Rahul KP respectively.

Buzzing with confidence following their recent achievement, the Red Miners had a bright start to the game and could have taken the lead as early as the tenth minute, when Seimenlen Doungel headed a ball from the deep into the path of Daniel Chima Chukwu. However, the Nigerian frontman could not keep his shot on target.

Coyle’s team let another gilt-edged chance go begging ten minutes later, with Chukwu being the guilty party yet again. Pronay Halder won the ball off a yellow shirt and somehow played it forward for the former Molde striker, who had only the Tuskers’ custodian Prabhsukhan Gill to beat but dragged his shot wide.

The Red Miners’ onslaught continued as they got another opportunity in the 34th minute. Greg Stewart lined up a freekick and while every Kerala Blasters player expected the Scotsman to either go for glory or deliver a cross, the former Rangers player cheekily played a short pass for a completely unmarked Mobashir Rahman. However, the Indian midfielder could only find the side netting with his effort.

All of these missed chances eventually came back to haunt Coyle’s team as the Tuskers took the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute. Vazquez played a long ball which Ricky Lallawmawma intercepted, but instead of clearing the ball to safety, he ended up heading it towards the path of Samad, who did brilliantly to chip the ball over the onrushing Jamshedpur custodian, TP Rehenesh.

TP Rehenesh’ save prevented Kerala Blasters from doubling their lead

TP Rehenesh’ save prevented Kerala Blasters from doubling their lead

Like hungry sharks who have just tasted blood, Vukomanovic’s men went all guns blazing in the second half and came agonizingly close to doubling their lead only fourteen minutes after the resumption. Luna went for glory from a freekick and Rehenesh came up with a spectacular fingertip save to deflect the shot onto the woodwork.

The shield winners got their first major opportunity of the second half in the 79th minute when substitute Jordan Murray played a pass for Ritwik Das on the right flank. The hero of the ATK Mohun Bagan triumph did well to make room for a shot on his left foot, but his strike went flying over the crossbar.

However, that was not the last chance for Coyle’s team. In the 89th minute, a free-kick from Alex Lima was initially cleared by the yellow shirts but the rebound fell for Ishan Pandita, whose shot was venomous but lacked direction.

With this win, the Tuskers will now need to ensure that they at least get a draw from the second leg tie, which will be played at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Tuesday.