C.K. Vineeth’s two moments of magic in a four-minute spell late in the second half helped Kerala Blasters jolt defending champion Chennaiyin FC 3-1 and move to the second spot in the Indian Super League at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday night.
Three goals from two games!
Vineeth’s sparkling play this evening proved what Steve Coppell’s Blasters had been missing in the early phase this season. The 28-year-old from Kannur, who had helped Bengaluru FC to the final of the recent AFC Cup, was all anticipation and reflexes as he produced the two impressive goals which left Chennaiyin breathless.
Vineeth’s first goal, in the 85th minute, was a beauty. The Blasters’ Spanish defender Josu Currias Prieto attempted a curling longranger from the left which goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr stretched to push back in. And even as defender Jerry Lalrinzuala put out a leg to kick away the danger, the Kerala star, who was lurking close by, scored with a lovely side-volley.
Vineeth was at it again four minutes later, picking up a long ball from German and shooting into the right corner from just outside the box as Kerr watched in agony.
But it was Chennaiyin, a side which was punished 4-1 by Delhi Dynamos just three days ago, which looked the stronger side in the opening session. The visitor maintained discipline with its formation and the Blasters, playing in front of nearly 55,000 wildly cheering spectators, could do little to disturb this in the first half.
With the home side’s right back Pratik Chaudhary running up and down, it did not take long for Chennaiyin captain Bernard Mendy to realise that the left lane was the best road to the goal.
And an unmarked Mendy gave the visitor the lead in the 22nd minute after a free run on the left. Defender Pratik Chaudhary had moved upfront and he desperately tried to chase Mendy. But the Frenchman was quicker, he ran into the box and his shot deflected off central defender Sandesh Jhingan and moved into the far corner of the net. Goalkeeper Graham Stack could do nothing.
Meanwhile the Chennaiyin central defenders, Norwegian John Riise and Brazilian Eli Sabia Filho, were in control but there one moment when Ivory Coast’s Didier Kadio, who had come in for English forward Michael Chopra after the break, sneaked into the box soon after his arrival but he messed up the opportunity.
Soon, it was clear that Kadio’s presence was the disruptive force that the Blasters were looking for this evening, after the exit of the lively forward Kervens Belfort with an injury a few minutes before the half-hour mark. Kadio, the Ivory Coast player, who had kept a low profile all along, kept the Chennaiyin defence guessing.
And it was Kadio who brought the Blasters’ equaliser in the 67th minute. German, a leading scorer last season who had come in for the injured Belfort, sneaked in through the left and as defender Filho attempted to cut out the space, the Englishman quickly slid the ball to Kadio who tapped it home to the delight of the crowd.
And some 20 minutes later came Vineeth magic which turned the match sharply around.
Chennaiyin’s Dudu Omagbemiu had looked threatening in the first half and just before the break, after being fed by midfielder Raphael Augusto, he ran through the middle. Central defender Cedric Hengbart tried desperately to stop the forward and as goalkeeper Stack rushed out, Omagbemi’s angled shot just went wide.
Kerala now has 15 point while Chennaiyin stays in the seventh spot with 10.
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