Santosh Trophy: Kerala outsmarts Manipur

Kerala rode on Jithin Gopalan’s brace to outsmart Manipur 6-0 and record its second consecutive win in the Santosh Trophy at the Sailen Manna Stadium, Howrah, here on Friday.

Kerala's Jithin Gopalan celebrates his success against Manipur in Santosh Trophy.   -  Debashish Bhaduri

Kerala rode on Jithin Gopalan’s brace to outsmart Manipur 6-0 and record its second consecutive win in the Santosh Trophy at the Sailen Manna Stadium, Howrah, here on Friday.

Following a lacklustre goalless first half, Kerala returned as a spirited unit and scored six goals, including an own goal in the dying moments.

Even though Kerala and Bengal are tied on six points, the southern team has occupied the top of Group ‘A’ on better goal difference.

There was little to talk about the first half as both sides failed to make an impression. Manipur came close to scoring when Chingakham Singh’s long ball in the air almost beat Kerala custodian Midhun V. in the 24th minute.

Manipur had a major setback when its goalkeeper Salam Dinakumar Singh was replaced because of a head injury which he received while making a save in the 25th minute.

For substitute custodian Bombom Singh, the outing was a nightmarish experience.

Afdal V.K., who came in for Sajith Poulose in the 46th minute, struck within seconds of stepping on the turf. He scored off a corner to spread cheers in the Kerala camp.

The fast moving Afdal helped his team double its lead and seize momentum. Close to the hour mark, Afdal took the ball on the right and Rahul K.P. netted one off rebound as Bombom looked helpless despite making two quick saves.

Kerala made it 3-0 in no time. Jithin M.S. ran fast on the right flank before sending in a cross and Jithin Gopalan slotted one to leave Manipur clueless.

Jithin M.S. scored the most beautiful goal of the match as he stole the ball from a Manipur player, ran for about 40 yards and put it past the goalkeeper with ease.

Jithin Gopalan netted his second goal to underline Kerala attackers’ united effort, built on some fabulous moves initiated by Jithin M.S. and Sreerag G.

Chingakham Singh’s defensive error gave Kerala its sixth goal.

“Since Sajith Poulose was not up to the mark, we had to field Afdal to get things moving,” said Kerala coach Satheevan Nil Balan on the crucial move.

In the other contest of the day at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, Maharashtra beat Chandigarh 2-1 to record its first win and take the third spot.

It was Chandigarh’s third successive defeat.

The results

Kerala 6 (Afdal V.K. 47; Rahul K.P. 59; Jithin Gopalan 62, 84; Jithin M.S. 71; Chingakham Singh 90+4-OG) bt Manipur 0; Maharashtra 2 (Shubham Khanvilkar 5; Dion Menezes 8) bt Chandigarh 1 (Vishal Sharma 88).