Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu: Debutantes Real Kashmir FC pepped up the 12th Hero I-League title race, inflicting a first defeat of the season on table toppers Chennai City FC riding on a Abednego Kofi Tetteh penalty conversion late in the second half to run out victors by a solitary goal to nil.
The game at Coimbatore’s Nehru stadium was mostly a battle of attrition and the result takes Kashmir to second on the points table, just one point behind Chennai who still lead with 18 points. Both teams have completed nine games.
The visitors made as many as three changes to their starting eleven from the previous game. Mason Robertson, the burly Scottish defender sat out and was replaced by Muhammad Hammad. So did Nagen Tamang and Khalid Qayoom in midfield and Kashmir lads Farhan Ganie and Danish Farooq played in their stead.
The hosts made just one change in that Charles Lourdusamy went out and Pravitto Raju got a start in his place.
Kashmir got the first chance of the game as early as in the third minute when a Surchandra Singh free-kick from near the left corner flag escaped the boots of two Kashmir players very close to the Chennai goalmouth.
The home-side then started to try and take control of the game but Kashmir were presenting a compact defensive formation and as much as Chennai’s creative Spanish midfielders Nestor and Sandro tried, they could not find an opening.
The pair first broke through in the 31st minute and Nestor missed one from close, albeit from a narrow angle. Kashmir immediately replied with a Surchandra Singh effort.
It was evident that Kashmir were trying to play a physical game to disrupt the fluent Chennai midfield recording five times as many fouls as the hosts in the first half.
However, it was not as if they were not looking to score, finishing the half with much lesser possession but more chances than the home-team. This would be the story of the match eventually, however Chennai would catch up on the chances score with a flurry at the end.
Nestor got the first good chance of the second half as late as in the 57th minute, when a lovely long ball from Roberto Eslava found him in the clear inside the Kashmir box. For once, Nestor’s first touch deserted him and he could not take the opportunity.
Following the pattern of the game, Kashmir hit back immediately with one of their own as a Krizo strike on the turn beat Chennai keeper Santana and hit the crossbar.
The game seemed to be headed towards a stalemate when Kashmir were awarded a penalty in the 76th minute as Gourav Bora was adjudged to have brought down Krizo inside the box.
Kofi Tetteh had to take the spot kick twice over, but converted both of them and gave Kashmir the lead.
Chennai tried to hit back immediately but Spanish striker Pedro Manzi missed a regulation chance of a lovely chipped ball by Nestor.
Their coach Akbar Nawas immediately swapped a midfielder for a forward, bringing in Ameeruddin in place of Pravitto Raju to bolster the strike force. He also brought in fresh legs ion the right wing, taking off Romario Jesuraj and bringing in the speedy Vijay.
Vijay did inject pace on the right flank and had a couple of opportunities to score and Manzi missed the easiest chance in the dying seconds of the game when his header bounced off the Kashmir bar, but in the end it was the visitors who came away with an important victory to throw the title race wide open.