Santosh Trophy: Punjab back in SF contention following comeback win

Punjab trailed Karnataka, only briefly, to S. Rajesh's seventh minute penalty.

Karnataka's S. Rajesh (in Blue) is locked in a duel in the box with Punjab defender Sarbjit Singh.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Punjab came back from being down by a goal to beat Karnataka 2-1, in a group B match at the Sailen Manna Stadium Howrah, and remained in the hunt for semifinal berth in the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy. Goa sailed on Victorino Fernandes’ hat-trick to earn the first win of the tournament thrashing Odisha 6-1, in the other match of the same group played at the Mohun Bagan ground.

Read: Kerala, Bengal cruise into semis

Karnataka, which had won its previous two outings, failed to fire up its old self as Punjab put up a robust opposition. The result opened up the contest in the group bringing Punjab back in contention for a semifinal slot alongside Mizoram and Karnataka. Mizoram is still leading the group with nine points with both Punjab and Karnataka tied in second spot with six points each. The last round of the group on Wednesday, when Karnataka will be taking on Mizoram and Punjab meeting Goa, will be deciding the two teams that are going to progress to next stage.

Punjab made a strong start making raids down the flanks but Karnataka managed to hold on to the assaults. Karnataka found the scoring opportunity first launching a speedy counter-attack in the seventh minute. Leon Augustine, one of the most prolific attackers in the Karnataka side, appeared to break through the Punjab defence when Sunny tackled him from behind forcing referee Crystal John to signal a penalty. Striker S. Rajesh made no mistake from the spot to give Karnataka an early lead.

Punjab, the eight-time champion, tried to regroup after the setback and resumed its raids down the flanks. In one of the assaults happening in the 18th minute Baltej Singh was set up by a long through-pass. The Punjab striker timed a grounder from just outside the box, which the Karnataka goalkeeper C. P. Shainkhan managed to block. Jitender Rawat, the under-21 winger of Punjab charged in from the left to avail the rebound (1-1).

The equaliser charged up Punjab, which went in the hunt for more. But Karnataka had another chance to regain the lead when midfielder Sukesh Leon made a good attempt just to see Punjab custodian Moses Anthony making a fine save. Punjab took the decisive lead in the 26th minute, when a mistake by a Karnataka defender allowed Baltej Singh to slot home a cross from Jaskaranpreet Singh. Karnataka tried hard for the equaliser after the break but failed in its bid as its attackers seemed to lose sight of the target on the few good opportunities coming their way.

The results: Punjab 2 (Jitender Rawat 18, Baltej Singh 26) bt Karnataka 1 (S. Rajesh 7-pen); Goa 6 (Victorino Fernandes  15, 45+3, 54, Machroy Peixito 59, Shubert Pereira 71, Marcus Mascarenhas 85) bt Odisha 1 (Sunil Sardar 16)