I-League 2023-24: Late fightback helps Gokulam Kerala extend winning streak to five games

February 19, 2024
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Alex Sanchez and Lalliansanga Renthlei scored at the fag end of the match as Gokulam Kerala FC

Sri Bhaini Sahib (Punjab), Feb 19 (IANS) Alex Sanchez and Lalliansanga Renthlei scored at the fag end of the match as Gokulam Kerala FC scripted an extraordinary late comeback to beat Delhi FC 2-1 at the Namdhari Stadium in Sri Bhaini Sahib on Monday.

After a lacklustre opening half in which Nidhin Krishna’s own goal put Delhi FC ahead, it took the last 10 minutes for the Malabarians to come to life and net twice through captain Sanchez and debutant Lalliansanga Renthlei, thus extending their winning streak to five games.

The win sees Gokulam Kerala retake the second spot in the table with 29 points, five less than leaders Mohammedan Sporting. Delhi FC, on the other hand, suffered their first loss in five games at the Namdhari Stadium and remained in eighth place with 19 points.

The hosts enjoyed a dominant first half, seeing plenty of the ball in the Gokulam Kerala half. Apart from an Alex Sánchez shot which was dragged wide in the third minute, the Malabarians created very little in the first period.

Skipper Pape Gassama was the mastermind of all of Delhi FC’s attacks. In the 15th minute, he created the first real opportunity with a sumptuous through ball for Gwgwmsar Goyary, but the teenager’s effort was well-saved one-on-one by Avilash Paul. A couple of minutes later, Gassama’s free-kick from 30 yards out skimmed centimetres above the Gokulam goal.

The Senegalese later got on the end of a Bali Gagandeep flick header, but Avilash showed quick reactions again to make a strong save from close range. However, he was finally beaten at the stroke of half-time when Gokulam defender Nidhin headed an in-swinging Gassama corner into his own net to put the hosts ahead.

Moments later, Gokulam had a shout for a penalty when captain Álex went down on a Vinil Poojary challenge, but referee Pratik Mondal waved play on. Both teams also suffered injury setbacks in the first half as Gokulam’s Nikola Stojanović and Delhi’s Alisher Kholmurodov had to be substituted for Basit Ahmed Bhat and Gurtej Singh, respectively.

The responsibility of harbouring a comeback fell on league top-scorer Sanchez’s shoulders. Soon after the restart, he cut inside from the right, skipped past two Delhi shirts and curled a left-footed shot inches wide of the top corner. Later, Naveen Kumar made a terrific save to tip the Spaniard’s header over the bar after Delhi failed to clear Vikas’ long throw.

But the real drama was to come in the final few minutes. And it all started when Gokulam were awarded a penalty after Gurtej’s handball in the area. Sanchez lodged the spot kick into the bottom left corner, but it had to be retaken as a Gokulam player had crept into the box. However, the skipper was confident enough to dispatch it perfectly again, this time slotting into the bottom right to score his 15th goal of the season.

But the Malabarians were not done yet. In the 93rd minute, they found the winner when two substitutes combined. Noufal P N probed into the box from the right and picked out Renthlei with his cross in the six-yard box, who headed in the winning goal just 10 minutes into his Gokulam debut.

–IANS/bsk/

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