Kerala Blasters held Chennaiyin FC to a 1-1 draw in the Indian Super League (ISL) match held at the JLN Stadium in Chennai on Saturday. Rene Mihelic converted a spot-kick conceded by Sandesh Jhingan to give the home side the lead initially but Vineeth scored in added time to earn his side a point.
John Gregory was forced to make a change to the side that started the 2-1 win over Bengaluru last Sunday, with Dhanpal Ganesh sitting out due to a suspension and young Anirudh Thapa coming into the side in the midfielder's absence.
Kerala Blasters, on the other hand, started with the same team that defeated NorthEast United in their previous game.
It was the home team that started the game on the front foot and almost fashioned a chance in the 4th minute when Thapa found Jude free in behind the defence inside the penalty box. However, the forward had strayed just offside.
With Wes Brown sitting in a holding role alongside Siam Hanghal, Kerala Blasters were looking to stifle space for Chennaiyin's creative midfielders and trying to play on the break. After a scrappy period in possession, Jude Nworuh managed to get to the byline on the left wing in the 16th minute before getting a cross in which was well dealt with by Sandesh Jhingan.
Soon after, Chennaiyin forced the first corner of the match but it was Kerala who capitalised with Vineeth breaking forward at pace after it was cleared. The Kerala-born forward played in Pekuson who squared it to Jackichand who had the goal at his mercy. However, the winger criminally blazed a shot well over.
Around the half-hour mark, Chennaiyin had a good opportunity to score when Francisco Fernandes was brought down by Lalruatthara just outside the area down the right wing. However, Jerry Lalrinzuala went for goal from a narrow position and sent his effort wide.
In the 38th minute, Kerala were dealt a blow after full-back Rino Anto went down injured. He was subsequently replaced with former Shillong Lajong right-back Samuel Shadap.
The half ended as scrappily as it began. Though Chennaiyin dominated proceedings, it was Kerala who had the best chance to score.
Neither team made any changes at the start of the second-half and it was the home side which began the brighter of the two once again. The enterprising Jerry Lalrinzuala fizzed a dangerous cross in from the left a few minutes after the restart but saw his delivery cleared by an alert Lakic-Pesic.
Soon after, Raphael Augusto collected the first yellow card of the match for a lunge on CK Vineeth. Kerala Blasters were almost handed a fortuitous goal in the 55th minute when Lalruatthara got to the byline following a lucky deflection and his cutback was unintentionally sent goalwards by Chennaiyin defender Mailson Alves. Thankfully, Karanjit was alert enough to parry the ball away.
Chennaiyin FC visibly ramped up the pressure on the away side as the half progressed, forcing a succession of corners and free-kicks. However, Kerala Blasters held on valiantly despite finding it very hard to get out of their own half.
After one such rare foray into the Chennaiyin FC half, they were caught on the counter and Siam Hanghal was forced to bring down Thapa and collect a booking.
But Kerala almost forced a goal when Courage Pekuson got hold of the ball in midfield before unleashing a low effort on goal which was palmed away by Karanjit at full-stretch.
John Gregory responded by bringing on Rene Mihelic and Gregory Nelson for Raphael Augusto and Jude Nworuh in the 75th minute.
Nelson almost made an immediate impact when he strode forward from midfield and stung the palms of Kerala goalkeeper Paul Rachubka with a rasping drive from outside the area.
There was drama at the end when Chennaiyin worked the ball to Jeje inside the box. The forward laid it off to Francis who saw his shot charged down by Sandesh Jhingan. The referee wrongly deemed it to have struck the arms of the defender and awarded the home side a penalty in the 87th minute.
Slovenian midfielder Rene Mihelic made absolutely no mistake with the spot-kick, rolling it calmly past Rachubka.
But Chennaiyin FC were given a kick in their teeth with virtually the last move of the game when a hopeful ball down the right wing was not cleared properly, leaving Jhingan with an opportunity to slide a low cross into the box. CK Vineeth accurately positioned, made no mistake from close range to ensure the game finished all square.