Guwahati, Feb 18: Kerala Blasters FC kept their playoff hopes alive, collecting the crucial three points after beating a depleted NorthEast United FC 1-0 in their final home game at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here on Saturday.
Last year’s runners-up Kerala, who have scored in their last 13 games in a row, the longest run by a team in the ISL, gained an early lead in the 28th minute when former Manchester United player Wesley Brown successfully headed a corner past the NorthEast keeper.
Plagued by the loss of key foreign recruits like Portugese skipper José Gonçalves, Brazilian midfielder Marcinho, Guinea-Bissauan centre-back Sambinha and ex-Benfica star Helio Pinto to injuries, the hosts could only afford to play the party spoilers after struggling the whole season.
This was the fourth consecutive loss for the Highlanders, who have failed to score in 10 of their 15 matches and Saturday’s display was no different — creating opportunities and missing goals.
It was as early as the 10th minute when Brazilian striker Danilo Cezario failed to generate enough power to put Swedish Maic Sema’s pass past the Kerala goalkeeper Rachubka.
The hosts could have made matters worse for them in the 20th minute when Nirmal Chettri failed to defend an attempt from Kerala’s Jackichand into the net and instead hit it towards his own goal. But thanks to NorthEast keeper Rehenesh Paramba’s brilliant save, there was no damage and the first half ended 0-1 in favour of the visitors.
Coming back, NE United came close to equalising in the 72nd minute when midfielder Lalrindika Ralte fired one from the left only to find the crossbar before the ball came back to him. His next attempt went straight into the hands of the goalkeeper.
The tourists, whose fans outnumbered the vociferous NorthEast supporters, played the waiting game in the later half and managed to shield their lead even after four minutes of extra time was taken.