Kozhikode (Kerala) [India], January 30 (ANI): Mumbai Kenkre FC showed in their previous match that they can punch well above their weight, beating Sreenidi Deccan. At EMS Corporation Stadium here on Sunday, a repeat looked on the cards, but Gokulam Kerala held on as only top teams do. The hosts won 1-0 to climb up to the third spot on the I-League table with 24 points.
Hero of the Match Sergio Mendigutxia once again made the difference for the defending champions with his 21st-minute goal. One of Vikas' innumerable overlaps right ended up with a beautiful floated cross to the far post. Mendigutxia snuck in to head it into the far corner of the net.
The ease and frequency with which Vikas and Sreekuttan were making the Kenkre midfield redundant and feeding their striker in the opening half was astounding. Gokulam coach Francesc Bonet would have been justified to expect that they would breeze through the game. A chance to make it 2-0 went begging -- Mendigutxia was guilty of missing an open header just before the halftime whistle -- and the complexion of the game changed after the breather.
One of the architects of that change was Kenkre side-back Papuia. He came in as a forced replacement in the first half itself as Pravitto Raju picked up an injury. His overlaps in the second half made Kenkre's Ivorian forward Ben Ouattara and his partner Ranjeet Pandre a lot more active.
Kenkre's first shot at the Gokulam goal came in the 47th minute from Pandre. The second attempt came just three minutes later and in the 52nd minute, Ouattara dribbled all the way into the Gokulam box from the right and centred for Pandre. But with his back to the goal and the towering Bouba Aminou close by, Pandre could not do anything.
Persistent pressure did not earn Kenkre the goal but forced a nasty foul from Rahul Raju on Pandre as Kenkre were going on a counter-attack, earned him a yellow card. A couple of minutes later, the referee went into his book again, sending Raju for an early shower. Gokulam was down to ten men with more than half an hour to go.
Gokulam predictably went on the defensive and Kenkre pressed forward. Their Nepalese midfielder Anjan Bista tried a diving header in front of the goal off a Papuia chip in the 60th minute but could not keep it on target.
The home team was defending with their backs to the wall and things started to heat up. Kenkre's Aman Gaikwad made a wild challenge on Vikas and got into an altercation. Coach Akhil Kothari sensed the danger of the red mist and thought it prudent to preserve their man advantage, withdrawing him immediately. Bonet made a lot of changes too but his team could not seize back midfield control. Kenkre, therefore, had the lion's share of the possession thereon and piled on attack after attack. The Gokulam defence remained rock solid.
The tension reached a boiling point, forcing multiple refereeing interventions, the Gokulam coach and a member of his staff at the receiving end of cards themselves. In terms of chances though, Kenkre could offer very little. A long-ranger by Samandar Ochilov missed the goal by a whisker, a parable of the game itself. In the end, Kenkre had to return empty-handed. (ANI)