A brilliant strike from 19-year old Pranjal Bhumij in the 93rd minute rescued a valuable point for the Islanders in front of a packed house at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. Halicharan Narzary had given Kerala Blasters a deserved lead in the first half but Jorge Costa and his boys fought back in the second half to pick up their first points of the 2018-19 Season.
The home side started the game on the front foot and created the first chance as early as the 3rd minute, with captain for the night Amrinder Singh being called into action, as he denied Seiminlen Doungel from close range. The next 10 minutes or so was all about the home team having more possession and the Islanders, on the other hand, trying to settle in the game. Paulo Machado’s effort in the 17th minute was the first real attempt at goal but Dheeraj made an easy save.
Lucian Goian had an opportunity to give us the lead but his leaping header from a Machado free-kick was wide off the goal. Kerala Blasters FC soon after took the lead through Halicharan Narzary’s left-footed strike in the box after being setup Seiminlen Doungel. The goal erupted the stadium with the home fans getting their moment to celebrate. The Islanders’ No.7 Arnold Issoko looked impressive on his debut by getting past the back four but not utilising the chances much.
Both sides headed into the break with Kerala Blasters FC playing the better football and having their noses in front. Just like the first half, the home side started the second half with the same flair. Kerala Blasters FC won a couple of corners in the 49th minute, with Jhingan unable to cause any threat and the second one being cleared by Amrinder. A brilliant one-two between Souvik Chakrabarti and Arnold gave the right-back a good chance to send in a dangerous low cross but it was dealt with ease by the Blasters’ defence.
Once again, Arnold Issoko was involved when he was released on goal by Raynier Fernandes on the right flank. He took his time but his effort was way over the goal. The Islanders were creating chances but failing to convert them, just like the opening game against Jamshedpur FC. Uruguayan Matias Mirabaje was brought on from the bench in place of Paulo Machado to try and create more goal scoring opportunities.
There was a let-off for the Islanders in the 66th minute when Stojanovic nearly doubled the lead but his curling effort was just inches away from finding the back of the net. Three minutes later, Souvik made a marauding run into the box and let one fly, but only to see it go wide off the goal. With 20 minutes to go, both the coaches turned to substitutions with Pranjal Bhumij replacing Raynier Fernandes and Keziron Kizito coming on for Sahal Abdul Samad.
Sandesh Jhingan, the eventual Player of the Match made a brilliant block to keep Arnold away from the chance of sending the ball into the danger area. That was the last bit of action for the No.7 with Sanju Pradhan replacing him in the 80th minute. The game got heated up in the last 10 minutes with Mirabaje being shown a yellow card for dissent. Dheeraj Singh had two scary moments in goals as he spilled the ball in the space of two minutes, the first one fell to Mirabaje whose shot was straight at the goalkeeper and the second one saw Modou Sougou miscueing his volley off target.
It seemed like the Islanders were going to lose out points once again, despite creating chances in the second half but up stepped 19-year old Pranjal Bhumij. He received the ball about 35 yards away from goal and with no defender around him, the young winger took a thunderous shot from distance that flew past Dheeraj Singh and into the top corner. It was Pranjal’s first league goal and the goal silenced the packed stadium.
In the end, the Islanders snatched a valuable point in Kochi to get their account running for the 2018-19 season and going into the first international break of the campaign.
Up next is the Maharashtra Derby against FC Pune City on 19th October at the Mumbai Football Arena.