BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
Gokulam Kerala defeated Minerva Punjab 1-0 at their own turf to register a third win on the trot in I-League. The three wins have come against teams in the top four - Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Minerva Punjab.
As the referee blew his whistle to bring the game to an end, Bino George danced in delight. The Kerala-born coach has overcome criticisms at the beginning of the season to turn the tables for Gokulam Kerala. So how did he do it?
After accumulating just four points from their first nine games, they have managed to earn 15 points from their last six games. The incredible turnaround in form deserves credit not just for the tactician in Bino George but also the hardworking players.
The Malabarians struggled in attack during their first nine games. Khalid Al-Saleh, who seemed to be their only ray of hope, had to leave the club due to injury issues, along with Kamo Bayi and Francis Ambane.
In came I-League legend Odafa Okolie who put pen to paper with Gokulam Kerala as the club looked to boost their attacking firepower. Not only did Okoli fail to connect with his teammates, his fitness hurt the team going forward on the field. Okoli was released after a few games and Bino George finally found the right recipe when it came to foreign attackers.
Bahrain-born forward Mohamed Alajmi and Ugandan striker Henry Kisekka slotted into the first team seamlessly and Gokulam Kerala are reaping the rewards of sensible recruitment in January. It is incredible how a good striker upfront can change the dynamics of a team. Another Ugandan Mudde Musa's presence in midfield strengthened the backbone of Bino George's team.
On Tuesday against Minerva Punjab, Gokulam Kerala continued their trend of playing good football. They once again refused to stay back in their own half and instead, took the game to the team that is considered as favourites for the title.
In a few months with Gokulam Kerala, Bino George has managed to bring Kerala-born players into the spotlight. A stand-out performer has been Arjun Jayaraj who has managed to capture the eyes of the football fanatics in the state. The youngster has put on terrific displays and has cemented his place in Gokulam's first team.
Chencho Gyeltshen was hyped up as the danger man for Minerva Punjab and rightly so, considering his brilliant efforts in his first season in I-League. But Gokulam Kerala dealt with the 'Bhutanese Ronaldo' brilliantly. They defended as a team and were also probably unlucky not to score more goals.
Gokulam Kerala's season can be summed up by the goal they scored against Minerva Punjab. The Kozhikode-based team's initial attempt at building a team did not work, just like Zhimomi's shot that was kept out by Kiran Limbu. Henry Kisekka's incredible overhead finish to a rebound effort ensured a win for the visitors. A few months ago, a stand-in striker would have blasted his effort over the bar or Odafa Okoli would have failed to connect with the ball.
The I-League new entrants were expected to have a difficult day in Panchkula, after long hours of tiring bus travel of which Bino George complained in his pre-match presser. They had lost Alajmi to an injury and Irshad to a suspension. But they still came out with a win. Talk about fighting spirit!
Bino George's side are sixth on the table and will be looking to secure direct qualification to the Super Cup. Now that the squad appears settled, the future looks promising for football in Kerala.