Kerala Blasters conceded two second half goals and threw away their lead…
Kerala Blasters looked like a team which is getting to know Kibu Vicuna’s style of play in the first half against NorthEast United on Thursday. They played well, were dominant, created chances and scored two goals.
The half started well and a two-goal cushion at the break should’ve given the confidence to cross the finish line and seal the win. However, NorthEast United refused to give up and clawed their way back into the contest and in the end, grabbed a point that seemed nearly impossible at the end of the first half.
The night belonged to Gerard Nus and NorthEast United – there are no two ways about it. Nus made the right changes at the right time and it was one his substitutes – Idrissa Sylla – who grabbed the equaliser with a well-taken strike past Costa Nhamoinesu and Albino Gomes right at the death.
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However, any team that throws away a two-goal lead should be ready to face the flak. Unlike last game, this was not an issue of attack not linking up well or getting used to Vicuna’s system – this was lacklustre defending and a collective inability to read in-game situations.
Sergio Cidoncha was the much-needed bright spark for Blasters in midfield in the first half. He linked up play well and was a threat going forward. A delightful Seityasen Singh set-piece from the right was beautifully headed into the net by the former Jamshedpur forward to open the scoring. A point to ponder – can Cidoncha and Sahal – who are both creative assets play together in midfield?
Sahal Abdul Samad missed out with a niggle but Nishu Kumar got his much-awaited start. He looked rusty but his ability to accurately deliver a pass was a refreshing sight to behold.
If fans expected Gary Hooper to take the league by storm and seamlessly replace Bart Ogbeche, that hasn’t happened at all. He has been in and out of the contest in the first two matches but managed to get off the mark by scoring a penalty after Puitea was brought down inside the box by Rakesh Pradhan. Hooper doubled his team’s lead and it was coming as Blasters were right on top of the contest. He should have scored a tap-pin minutes before that but the former Norwich City striker missed an open net and registered his effort for the miss of the season.
In both the games Kerala have played, they have been guilty of missing gilt-edged chances. Last game, it was Sahal with a glaring miss.
Nus responded to his opponents’ dominance by replacing Pradhan with Malayali striker Britto PM. Six minutes after the restart, Federico Gallego’s excellent delivery into the box found Kwesi Appiah whose effort was blocked by Hooper. The defence failed to clear the danger and Appiah was the quickest to react and chest the rebound home.
There was more intent to NorthEast United’s forays forward but Costa and Bakary Kone stood strong to weather the storm. After the hour-mark, Jessel fouled Lalengmawia in the box but Appiah skied his effort from 12 yards. That should’ve been the wake-up call for the Yellow Army.
But Blasters ended the game with two shots on target which were the goals they scored. Gurjinder Kumar’s long pass in the 90th minute found substitute Idrissa Sylla and the equaliser was never in doubt. The striker looked offside when the ball was played but the flag was never raised and while it is fair to criticise a wrong refereeing decision, the two points dropped by Blasters weren’t solely due to the 90th-minute strike.
It was a game of two halves and it was a deserved point for the Highlanders.