Kozhikode, Kerala: A 60th minute strike from Bengaluru boy Rajesh S for Gokulam Kerala FC was enough for his team to earn a victory against defending champions Minerva Punjab FC at the EMS Corporation stadium in Kozhikode on Sunday.
The win, Gokulam’s second of the campaign, takes them to eight points from five games, five behind table toppers Chennai City FC and two clear of third placed Quess East Bengal. Minerva on the other hand, move down to the eighth position with four points from four games.
Bino George, the Gokulam coach fielded an unchanged starting eleven while Minerva’s Irish strategiest Paul Munster gave youngster Laltunmang Haokip a start in place of Moinuddin. Under-22 Haokip though played for only first 30 minutes was replaced by Akash Sangwan thereafter.
With four forwards listed on the score sheet, Bino’s intentions were clear although Bala Dahir it was for the visitors, who had the first shot at goal as early as the third minute. The hosts were quick to respond with a couple of quick attacks of their own but all in all it was a half which lacked creativity in the attacking third throughout.
And this even after the humidity of Kozhikode was neutralised by a 21 minute break in between because of a malfunctioning floodlight.
The best chance of the first half came to Minerva’s Nigerian winger Donatus Edafe in the 44th minute when a wonderful cross from Souvik Das from the right flank found him with a free-header but he missed his mark.
Apart from that and the two yellow cards that Akashdeep and Philip Njoku picked up for the visitors, there was hardly anything of note as the half ended goalless. A third yellow for Minerva was picked up later in the second half by Souvik Das.
The second half was as insipid as the first and it was the visitors who looked more intent at finding a goal and were dominating the attacking play.
Quietly against the run of play, it was the home side who took the lead in the 60th minute through Rajesh. It was Suhair who started the move, playing on Gani Nigam inside the box on the right. The youngster surged ahead and floated in a cross which beat Bhaskar Roy in the Minerva goal on the near post and Rajesh was there to meet it with a compact header.
The goal brought some life back into the game and both coaches also started making their moves.
Gani was taken off two minutes later and Pritam Singh brought in by Bino George.
Paul Munster also did not lose any time to get in Ivorian forward Alexander Kouassi in place of Nigerian defensive midfielder Bala Dahir and later in the 83rd minute Sabeeth in place of defender Souvik Das.
Minerva did try desperately for an equaliser towards the end. Kouassi’s powerful shot in the 86th minute was kept out of danger by Shibinraj in the Gokulam goal and Arashpreet’s effort from a William Opoku corner also missed the target.
Gokulam also had some gilt-edged opportunities to increase their lead but Antonio German and Abhishek Das were guilty of misses. Rajesh was rightly adjudged the Hero of the Match.