Kerala Blasters kept their play-off hopes alive after a stunning 2-1 victory over FC Pune City at the Balewadi Sports Complex in an Indian Super League (ISL) clash on Friday. CK Vineeth (90+3') and Jackichand Singh (58') scored for the visitors while Emiliano Alfaro got his name on the scoresheet for the home side in the 78th minute.
Ranko Popovic made as many as three changes to the side which beat Jamshedpur FC with Sarthak Golui, Marko Stankovic and Baljit Sahni coming in for Rohit Kumar, Jonatan Lucca and Isaac Vanmalsawma. Emiliano Alfaro continued to lead the line for the hosts with Marcelinho slotting in behind him.
David James on the other hand, made just the one change to the side which defeated the Delhi Dynamos as Nemanja Lakic-Pesic came in for Karan Sahwney. Iain Hume started as the designated striker with Jackichand Singh, Courage Pekuson and CK Vineeth playing behind him.
In an end to end start to the game, the visitors created a chance as early as the seventh minute when Diego Carlos cut inside from the left before unleashing a fierce shot which was well saved by Blasters’ custodian Subhashish Roy.
Marcelinho’s free-kick in the 21st minute created another opportunity for the hosts but Alfaro’s header was directed straight at the goalkeeper.
Both sides had a chance to take the lead towards the stroke of half-time. First, Alfaro was set up by a beautifully threaded through ball from Stankovic but the Uruguayan failed to find the target with just Subhashish to beat.
Then Jackichand did well to square up Hume in the penalty box but Pune custodian Vishal Kaith did extremely well to rush out and block the attempt. Hume injured his knee in the process and had to be taken off as both sides went into the half-time interval goalless.
For the second time in the season, Popovic was given his marching orders by the match official after an altercation during the half-time whistle.
Marcelinho smashed the frame of the post for Pune straight after half-time but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in the 58th minute. Substitute Guðjón Baldvinsson squared up Jackichand at the edge of the box and the winger took a touch before blasting the ball into the net.
Diego was set through one on one with Subhashish but Sandesh Jhingan put in a last ditch tackle to preserve Kerala’s lead.
The home side upped the ante in search for an equalizer as the second period wore on and managed to restore parity in the 78th minute. Subhashish brought down Alfaro in the box and the Pune forward stepped up to convert the resultant spot-kick himself.
Marcelinho struck the woodwork twice in the dying minutes but it was Kerala who snatched the three points with an injury-time winner by CK Vineeth. The winger showed great control to bring down a long-ball before smashing the ball into the back of the net to break Pune’s hearts.
The loss means Popovic’s men remain in third spot in the league table with 22 points while Kerala move into the fifth spot temporarily with 20 points.