It was a historic occasion for the sport in the country on Tuesday as the Kashmir Valley played host to a top tier Indian football match for the very first time.
The TRC Turf Ground in the picturesque setting of Srinagar was the venue for Real Kashmir FC’s first-ever I-League home clash with Churchill Brothers being the opponents to grace the occasion.
The stands bore a packed look with the home side receiving vociferous support throughout the 90 minutes. In the end, they would get no goals to celebrate as the match finished in a goalless stalemate with the visitors holding on for 45 minutes despite being a man down.
That is not to say that the partisan home support did not get their money’s worth with the hosts striking the crossbar on a couple of occasions through efforts from local boy Danish Farooq and Ivory Coast striker Gnohere Krizo in either half of the game.
The football on offer from both teams was at times in stark contrast to the picturesque background setting with long balls from the defence to the attack being the order of the day. The artificial turf at the TRC ground did not make matters easy for either side with players failing to construct sweeping passing moves.
It was the visitors in fact who looked the more comfortable on the ball and had the lion’s share of possession before a dreadful undercooked back pass from defender Nenad Novakovic at the stroke of half time cost them a man. Goalkeeper James Kithan’s decision to surge forward and handle the ball to stop the advancing Aaron Katebe might have cost him a sending off but in hindsight, it ensured that the visitors go back to Goa still unbeaten in the league.
While Churchill will be disappointed that they did not make more of their domination in the first period, the hosts will be equally rueful of not making their man-advantage count in the second.
However, Real Kashmir head coach Andy Robertson will be delighted with the defensive solidity and organisation shown by his men on the day. The hosts’ defence was dominant in the air, winning almost every header in their own half. Krizo was an imposing physical presence at the other end with the Ivory Coast striker proving a handful for the Churchill defence.
Both teams remain unbeaten in the league and will take positives from the game despite the football not being pretty at times. For Kashmir, it is their defensive organisation which will please Robertson the most with the team showing why they will be a hard side to break down for any offence. For the Goans, it is a hard earned point in which the team showed its quality in patches.