Kerala Blasters ended their 2017 in agonising fashion as they lost to Bengaluru FC 1-3, their rivals from the neighbouring state at home, in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday.
Sunil Chhetri converted from the spot-kick his counterpart Sandesh Jhingan conceded at the hour-mark. Venezuelan striker Miku sealed the deal with two goals in as many minutes in stoppage time as Courage Pekuson got a consolation goal in the last action of the match.
Rene Meulensteen was brave enough to add Iain Hume to the team by replacing foreign goalkeeper Paul Rachubka. Subhashish Bose was the custodian for the day. CK Vineeth was omitted from the matchday squad.
Udanta Singh came back into the Bengaluru first team after passing a late fitness test. The young winger, along with Sunil Chhetri, flanked Miku for the visitors.
Kerala Blasters surged forward in numbers immediately after kick-off but the first real chance came at the other end for Bengaluru's leading goalscorer Miku. Edu Garcia's free-kick from the right was headed straight at Subhasish Bose in goal.
Dimitar Berbatov's absence paved the way towards regular first-team minutes for young forward Mark Sifneos and it was the Dutchman who found himself at the end of a well-executed lob over the Bengaluru backline by Wes Brown. With only Gurpreet in clear sight, the 21-year-old failed to connect to the delivery.
Bengaluru grew in confidence as the first half wore on, with the linesman getting his much-needed exercise on the eve of the New Year. Dimas Delgado sent Miku's lay-off into the net but the Venezuelan was offside while bringing down Juanan's long ball.
A handball by Sandesh Jhingan in the 60th minute allowed Bengaluru to break the deadlock at the JLN Stadium. Sunil Chhetri's cross had graced the arm of the former Bengaluru FC defender before reaching Miku in the centre of the box.
The Indian skipper stepped up and slotted the ball into the corner of the net to stun the home fans.
Hume's effort from a free-kick outside the box had an alert Gurpreet diving low to his right but it crept inches wide of the post. Sunil Chhetri was applauded off the pitch by the large crowd in Kochi late in the game. His replacement Alwyn George dragged his shot wide of Rachubka's goal a few seconds later to silence the crowd yet again.
Jackichand had a golden chance in the 90th minute as Iain Hume cleverly picked out the winger's run inside the box from a free-kick. Miku was back in the box to do his defensive work and his block kept Bengaluru's lead intact.
Miku had only just begun. Bengaluru's leading goalscorer put the game to bed a few second later. Edu Garcia's through-ball found the striker's 40-yard run in behind the Kerala defence and he needed only a couple of touches before hitting the net.
Sandesh Jhingan's lack of awareness presented Miku with another chance and the gift was graciously accepted by the striker who took his ISL tally to eight goals, joining Ferran Corominas at the top of the chart.
Courage Pekuson scored a consolation goal at the fag end of the game but the cheers were reduced tears when the referee whistled for full-time immediately afterwards.
The much-hyped fixture ended in favour of the Blues from Bengaluru as the Yellow Army succumbed to their second defeat of the season in Indian Super League.