ISL: Mumbai holds Kerala to 1-1 draw

Kerala Blasters didn’t manage to hold out a one-goal lead and remains win-less after its first three fixtures of the season.

Balwant helped Mumbai City secure a point at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi.

The Kerala Blasters’ long wait for its first goal of this season was finally over here on Sunday night. But there was no change in the end result with Mumbai City FC pulling off a 1-1 draw and thereby staying above Kerala (in sixth) on the table.

Hungry after two goal-less games at home, the Blasters went on the attack from the word go. With Markos Sifneos offered a start in place of Iain Hume, the ISL’s all-time top scorer who had been off colour in the last two games, the home side had more punch to its attack. It looked faster, appeared to have more purpose and the home boys looked eager to help out each other.

Winger C. K. Vineeth consistently put in crosses from the left flank, Courage Pekuson produced the vibrant form he had shown in the opening game and there was the calm influence of Dimitar Berbatov in the midfield. The team appeared set.

Match centre

The home side’s first goal appeared to be in sight early and within the first 10 minutes, the Blasters enjoyed three corners and three free-kicks. Sifneos, Vineeth, Pekuson, and Serbian defender Nimanja Pesic were in the thick of things in the goalmouth melee and after that, it did not take long for Blasters to open its account for the season.

And it was 18-year-old Sifneos, the youngest foreigner in the ISL, who brought Blasters’ most precious goal in the 14th minute, ending his team’s 200-minute wait. Wingback Rino Anto advanced from the right and sent a lovely cross to Sifneos, who tucked the ball home acrobatically.

Now confident, coach Rene Meulensteen’s boys played freely. They created more chances and the Mumbai defence, especially Davinder Singh, appeared shaky for a long time after that.

Vineeth almost came close to scoring but his attempt, off a long ball from Jackichand, was pushed away by the Mumbai custodian Amrinder Singh just before the half-hour mark. More action followed and five minutes before the break, Jackichand shot over after receiving a perfect pass from Berbatov and a little later Ghanaian Pekuson also sent a longranger over.

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Mumbai, with just a three-day break after its last game in Pune, appeared weary and the Blasters backline took care of things whenever the visitor turned adventurous. Mumbai’s best chance in the first half came towards the end but Rafael Jorda Assin’s effort was nicely taken care of by home goalkeeper Paul Rachubka.

The home side continued its domination after the restart and had a few chances to double the lead. Pekuson missed one such chance after receiving a cross from the left from Vineeth.

Meanwhile Mumbai relied mainly on counterattacks but Cameroonian Achille Emana frequently found himself running into an yellow wall, especially Pesic. The visitor was a shade unlucky too in the 55th minute, when Everton Santos’ shot hit the right post.

Hume made his appearance shortly after the 70th minute, replacing Sifneos, but he was closely marked by the Mumbai defenders Mehrajuddin Wadoo and captain Lucian Goian.

A few minutes later Mumbai broke the hearts of the 35,000 noisy fans with the equaliser. Everton Santos, who received a long ball from Emana, sent a nice cross in the way of the onrushing Balwant and he finished the job impressively. There was more disappointment for the home team towards the end with Kerala star Vineeth being sent off with a second yellow card.

And once again, Kerala was forced to share points for the third straight time.

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