ISL: Kerala beats Pune, edges closer to semis

Kerala Blasters marked its return home with a 2-1 win over FC Pune City and put itself in the play-off spots at the expense of the visitor which fell to fifth place in the ISL standings.

Kerala Blasters' Duckens Nazon (R) celebrates scoring against FC Pune City at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.   -  ISL

It’s the home-stretch and happily, the Kerala Blasters boys are getting better. Dishing out some very positive play on its return home, the Kochi side defeated FC Pune City 2-1 and recorded its fourth straight home victory, the first team to do so in the Indian Super League.

The win helped Blasters jump from fifth to third spot with 18 points in the eight-team ISL table while Pune dropped a rung to fifth.

With the Nehru Stadium nearly packed to capacity here on Friday night, the Blasters came up with exciting, attacking football that thrilled the wildly cheering crowd. Steve Coppell’s boys looked fresher, fitter and faster than their opponents as they dominated the match and came up with a series of attacks. They combined well, created plenty of chances and should have won by a huge margin.

With passes coming in plenty for the home side, from defender Josu Currias on the left and from some long balls from centre-back Cedric Hengbart, the Pune defenders – weary after just a two-day break after the last game in Guwahati – appeared confused.

The home forward Kervens Belfort’s mazy runs created havoc in the Pune defence and his fine understanding with his compatriot Duckens Nazon produced some sparkling play upfront.

Both the Blasters goals, one early in each session, came with a lot of drama. Nazon raced into the box from the left for the first goal, and as defender Dharmaraj Ravanan rushed desperately to thwart him, the Haitian forward tapped the ball in, beating the Pune goalkeeper Edel Bete easily.

Shortly after the half-hour mark, Hengbart’s long ball found Nazon but the Haitian’s attempt was pushed out of danger by goalkeeper Bete. Moments later, a Mohammed Rafi attempt from the right hit the side netting. In between, there was a beautiful back-volley from left-winger C. K. Vineeth, the action man in the last few home games here and the fans’ favourite, which went over.

At the other end, Hengbart kept the Pune dangerman Anibal Zurdo, the team’s highest goal-getter this season, on a tight leash. With the Blasters’ marquee player Aaron Hughes back, the defenders stayed steady and did not allow much space for the other forward Gustavo Oberman, to play freely too.

Pune’s best chance in the first half came towards the end of the session but Arata Izumi messed it up with some clumsy play in front of the goal. And soon after the break, Zurdo threatened on the edge of the box but central midfielder Mehtab Hossain rushed in and smartly plucked the ball away.

Minutes later, Aaron Hughes scored the Blasters’ second goal. A corner came, after Rafi’s powerful shot was pushed away by Bete, and after a few taps here and there, C.K. Vineeth sent in a cross from the left which an opportunistic Hughes headed into the near corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance.

Pune’s consolation goal came in injury time with Zurdo scoring from a freekick just outside the box. But there was very little time for a revival and two minutes later, the Blasters celebrated a fine victory.

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