Lara’s goal lifts Atletico past Kerala Blasters

After losing the opening game against NorthEast United, the Blasters coach Steve Coppell who went for the 4-4-2 system, made six changes today while ATK came up with two changes.

Javier Lara celebrates his goal with teamates

Atletico Kolkata Spanish midfielder Javier Lara celebrates after scoring a goal for his team.   -  H. Vibhu

Javier Lara Grande did not last the full season last year as his Indian Super League journey was cut short with an injury. On Wednesday night, in front of 60,000 roaring fans, the Spanish midfielder scored the match-winner as former champion Atletico de Kolkata defeated host Kerala Blasters 1-0 at the Nehru Stadium here.

Lara’s goal came after a smart move through the middle in the 53rd minute. As he neared the box, the 30-year-old virtually tricked the Blasters’ English goalkeeper Graham Stack. For a second, everyone felt that Lara would pass the ball to striker Iain Hume, a hero here after playing the inaugural season in Kochi, a few metres away on the left.

Instead, Lara sent in a powerful shot which went through defender Sandesh Jhingan’s legs, deflected a bit, and found its way home. Stack could only stand and watch in agony. The English goalkeeper was replaced around 10 minutes later by Sandip Nandy.

The match which saw the visiting team dominating in the early stages which then turned sharply around in the Blasters way for a major part of the last half hour. The Blasters’ star central defender Cedric Hengbart was in the thick of things and almost came close to getting the host’s equaliser in the last few minutes of the match.

Hengabart’s header off a corner in a crowded goalmouth went just wide in the injury time and a couple of minutes earlier, the Frenchman’s header ended in a clash of heads with the ATK goalkeeper Debjit Majumder.

If one expected an exciting contest between the two marquee players, Blasters’ central defender Aaron Hughes and ATK forward Helder Postiga, it did not happen. Hughes, who trained with the team yesterday, was forced to leave Kochi as he had been called by Northern Ireland to play the 2018 World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and World champion Germany and is now likely to miss the next couple of games. Meanwhile, Portugal’s Postiga picked up an injury around the quarter-hour mark and was replaced by Juan Carlos.

The home wingbacks, and today Josu Currias Prieto – an impressive midfielder last season – was brought in as a left-back, looked shaky and the side did not appear to be a settled combination.

And ATK tried to capitalise on this in the first session. Javier Lara sent in a low cross from the left in the 19th minute but there was none to take the offer and a little later, Sameehg Doutie produced a good cross but Juan Carlos was a little late to meet it. Moments later, Doutie’s shot was pushed away by the Blasters’ goalkeeper Stack.

On the other end, Antonio German’s moves brought a roar of approval from the packed stadium, which is clearly the ISL biggest crowd this season. And before the half-hour mark, the home side had three chances. First, Haitian forward Duckens Nazon moved up on the left and clipped a cross to German but the Englishman’s unsure kick went over. German twisted and turned past a couple of opponents but his shot went over a few minutes later. Moments later, he found his way through the middle, fed Mohammed Rafique but the latter could not find the target.

After losing the opening game against NorthEast United, the Blasters coach Steve Coppell who went for the 4-4-2 system, made six changes today while ATK came up with two changes.

The result: Atletico de Kolkata 1 (Javier Lara 53) bt Kerala Blasters 0.