What a transformation! Despite the odds heavily stacked against them, 10-man Kerala Blasters FC stunningly forced Chennaiyin FC to a 1-1 draw in the Indian Super League at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday night.
The Blasters were coming home after a four-game losing streak which saw the exit of their head coach Peter Taylor and Chennaiyin, known for their attacking game and with stars like the league’s joint top scorer John Stiven Mendoza and Brazilian star Elano Blumer, started as the big favourites.
But it was the Blasters who walked away with their head held high after playing with 10 men for the last 18 minutes. Chennaiyin’s goal came through a penalty too, through Elano in the 33rd minute, while the home side’s English striker Chris Dagnall, the hero of the match, came up with the Blasters’ equaliser with a stunning header soon after the break.
As expected, the Blasters dropped Taylor’s favourite 5-3-2 and chose the 4-3-1-2 system with Sanchez Watt playing just behind the two strikers Mohammed Rafi and Dagnall. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin stuck to their regular 4-4-1-1 in a match which was played under a steady drizzle. Both sides made three changes from their last game.
Joao Coimbra, the Portuguese midfielder, made the Blasters look lethal tonight, working his way up nicely and sending a steady stream of crosses to the forwards till his exit in the 40th minute due to a back injury.
At the half-hour mark, Coimbra sent a lovely through cross to Chris Dagnall. With the crowd roaring, the English striker raced into the box but got into a tangle with the goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
Chennaiyin took the lead soon after, through a penalty. Sandesh Jhingan, who got away scot-free when he pulled down the dangerous Mendoza a few moments earlier just outside the penalty area, appeared to bring down the Colombian striker inside the box following a collision in the 33rd minute. Elano comfortably slotted it home, sending it to the left corner, giving Bywater no chance.
Bywater was tested once again when Mendoza turned and fired a fiery shot from the top of the box but this time the home goalkeeper made a splendid save.
Chennaiyin went into the break with a happy lead but the home side struck the equaliser soon after the break. The move started on the left with the young Spaniard Josu Currias Prieto, who came in for Coimbra, playing in left back Saumik Dey who sent a curling floater to Dagnall. The Englishman was quick to react and head it home, much to the joy of nearly 48,000 fans.
The Blasters got a penalty too when their captain Peter Ramage was brought down by the Chennaiyin defender Mailson Alves inside the box as the goalkeeper Karanjit rose to save a long-ranger. Josu took the penalty but Karanjit anticipated the shot well, diving to his left to make a brilliant save.
Karanjit had an outstanding day. He made two more good saves before the hour-mark, pushing away a curling Josu freekick and a little later, a Dagnall header from close range, and another Josu freekick.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Bywater made a couple of smart saves denying Elano and Mendoza in quick succession around the 70th minute. At the other side, Rafi saw his header, following a curling cross from Ramage, go wide.
The Blasters, who attacked strongly in the second half, suffered a massive setback in the 74th minute when their tall Brazilian midfielder Bruno Perone’s boot hit Mendoza’s jaw as he jumped and turned to thwart the Colombian’s dangerous move forward. Was it intentional? The referee thought so and gave Perone his marching orders.
But despite being a man down, the home side put up a brave face and finished the match with honours even. The Blasters, who play their next two games at home, remain in the last rung with five points while Chennaiyin stay in the fifth spot with 10 points after seven games.
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