Kerala beats NorthEast to secure place in playoffs

And once again, it was C.K. Vineeth who produced the magical moment, scoring the Blasters match-winner in the 66th minute which saw the Kochi side finish second in the eight-team table with 22 points, just behind Mumbai City FC.

C.K. Vineeth celebrates his goal for Kerala Blasters against NorthEast United.   -  Special Arrangement

For a side which was down at the bottom of the pit last season, this was a great comeback. Kerala Blasters raced into the semi-final of the Indian Super League in stunning style as it defeated NorthEast United by a lone goal in its last league match at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday night.

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And once again, it was C.K. Vineeth who produced the magical moment, scoring the Blasters match-winner in the 66th minute which saw the Kochi side finish second in the eight-team table with 22 points, just behind Mumbai City FC.

For the Blasters, this was its fifth straight victory at home.

Vineeth’s goal came after a smart and stealthy move. After being put through by his Kerala State-mate Rafi, Vineeth cut through the left and moved along the edge of the box and though a defender put out a desperate leg, the left winger beat Rehenesh with a lovely angle and the ball found the right corner of the net.

That was Vineeth’s fifth goal from six games and put him alongside stars like Diego Forlan and Iain Hume in the top goal-getters’ list this season.

Steve Coppell’s boys should have won by a bigger margin, such was their domination in the second half, but since the home side needed just a draw to make the semifinal, it did not matter at all.

The home boys made their intent clear right from the start, a draw was not on their minds at all. And Vineeth’s goal gave the Blasters new energy. Five minutes after the Kerala star’s goal, the Blasters almost doubled the lead as Kervens Belfort, who had been put through by his Haitian compatriot Duckens Nazon, shot from inside the box but this time, Rehenesh jumped tall and pushed the ball over.

And around the 75th minute, Belfort, the Blasters’ electric spark, easily beat defender Reagan Singh and sent a cross to Antonio German, who had come in for Nazon a minute earlier, but Rehenesh pushed away the danger, his third excellent save of the second half.

Antonio German also scored a goal late in the match but it was disallowed as he had brought down a defender just outside the box after racing through the middle.

The NorthEast desperately needed to win the game but the Blasters defence was up to the task. Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro, the team’s top scorer with five goals, was not given much space to move freely by the central defenders Cedric Hengbart and captain and marquee player Aaron Hughes in the opening session.

The visitor’s speedy winger Katsumi Yusa, on the left, and Seityasen Singh broke through the flanks a few times but Sandesh Jhingan and Rino Anto kept them at bay for a major part of the first half.

Anto was offered a start in place of the injured leftback Josu Currias Prieto and with NorthEast trying to put pressure on this lane frequently towards the end of the first half, Jhingan and Anto exchanged flanks.

A couple of freekicks, given to the visitor, looked dangerous but the Blasters’ English goalkeeper Graham Stack was steady, warding off danger from Yusa’s and Koffi Ndri’s attempts.

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