Real Kashmir downed the reigning champion Chennai City FC 2-1 at the TRC Turf Ground on Thursday. The match was the first big sporting event in the valley since it became a union territory.
Danish Farooq Bhat opened the scoring for Real Kashmir in the 22nd minute before Bazie Armand doubled the lead lie minutes later.
Syed Suhail Pasha's second half goal halved the deficit for Chennai City but Real Kashmir held on to its lead for its first win of the season. The three points lifted the home side above the visitor into seventh place.
Chennai City hasn't made a convincing defence of its crown having picked up just five points in as many games.
David Robertson made just a couple of changes to his previous line-up. Singam Subash Singh started upfront at the expense of Gnohere Krizo, who made the bench. At the back, Armand was given the nod ahead of Dalraj Singh, in what seemed like a 3-5-2, reminiscent of a modern-day catenaccio.
Chennai City, despite not hitting full throttle in the league yet, made just one change. Akbar Nawas named Pradison Marivadasan in his starting eleven, with Bijay Chhetri making way for him.
Back in front of its Srinagar faithful, it was Kashmir who kicked-off proceedings, being firmly in the driving seat. Its quick and fluid, yet disciplined passing and movement was almost too much for Chennai to handle in the early stages.
Real Kashmir kept the pressure on, not allowing the Southerners a moment’s respite.
In the 13th minute, some smart footwork by Farooq, followed by an exquisite rabona flick with his weaker foot put Higginbotham through down the right. The Englishman bulldozed his way into the six-yard box and passed it across goal for Mason Robertson to tap it into an open net, but the ever so reliable Scot made a total hash of it, flicking it over instead which again fell to a lurking Armand and to everyone’s surprise, he missed the target too.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 22nd minute, when an exquisite set-piece delivery from Higginbotham found Farooq in the box, who waved off his marker and made just the right contact with his head, to give Real Kashmir the lead through a clinical header. Nauzet Santana got a hand to it, but the sheer venom in the header took it past him.
The host was turning on the style and doubled its lead in the 27th minute. Yet again, it was Higginbotham who was involved in the mix. He cut inside on the left, which created some space for him to deliver another immaculate delivery into the eighteen-yard box and Armand soared the highest to head it into the top corner, leaving Santana stranded between the sticks.
Chennai City came out in the second half, knowing very well that it need to pull one back sooner rather than later.
The visitor put its half-time team talk into practice when it reduced the deficit in the 48th minute. A cheeky back flick by Pravitto Rajju generated just the right elevation for Suhail to head it past Phurba Lachenpa in the Kashmir goal to bring the game right back in the balance.
Despite Chennai’s newfound surge, it was Kashmir, however, which looked likelier to score the next goal.
In the 68th minute, the game should have been put to bed but Loveday Okechukwu, who was completely unmarked failed to tap in another Higinbotham set-piece, blasting it high and wide.
In the closing stages of the game, the visitor failed to stitch together any real threat as the Snow Leopards held on for the win.
Real Kashmir FC co-founder, Sandeep Chattoo commented, “It was a splendid win and we did it for Kashmir. The coach and the team ensured that every Kashmiri returned home smiling.”
There were security concerns in the lead up to the game due to the abrogation of Article 370 and the ensuing lockdown in the valley.
The match wasn't telecast on the official broadcaster DSport. "Due to the ongoing internet connectivity issues in the Kashmir region, today's match between @ChennaiCityFC & @realkashmirfc will not be telecasted on DSPORT," DSport posted on its official Twitter page.
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