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I-League: Gokulam Kerala beat Delhi FC, Aizawal crumble against Sreenidi Deccan

Gokulam Kerala and Sreenidi Deccan registered victories in I-League on Monday.

I-League: Gokulam Kerala beat Delhi FC, Aizawal crumble against  Sreenidi Deccan

Gokulam Kerala beat Delhi FC


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 19 Feb 2024 7:49 PM GMT

Gokulam Kerala and Sreenidi Deccan registered victories in I-League on Monday.

Gokulam Kerala beat Delhi FC

Gokulam Kerala FC scripted an extraordinary late comeback to beat Delhi FC 2-1 at the Namdhari Stadium in Sri Bhaini Sahib on Monday, February 19, 2024.

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 Álex Sánchez and debutant Lalliansanga Renthlei, thus extending their winning streak to five games. The win sees Gokulam Kerala retake 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, in fact, enjoyed a dominant first half, seeing plenty of the ball in the Gokulam Kerala half. Apart from an Álex 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 inswinging 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 Álex’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. Álex lodged the spot kick into the bottom left corner, but it had to be retaken as a Gokulam player had encroached in the box. However, the skipper was confident enough to dispatch it perfectly again, this time slotting into the bottom right to score his 15th of the season.

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

Sreenidi Deccan beat Aizawl FC

Sreenidi Deccan FC ramped up the pressure at the top of the table in the 2023-24 I-League beating Aizawl FC 5-1 at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl on Monday, February 19, 2024. The win draws them to within five points of the table toppers Mohammedan Sporting, with a game in hand.

Having edged their way, with an outside chance, back into the title race, it was crucial for Sreenidi Deccan to keep their momentum up. Predictably then, they began the game in earnest and were well on top in the early exchanges, despite being the team playing away from home. All that pressure seemed to have led to reward in the 18th minute as they were awarded a penalty for a handball inside the area. David Castaneda sent the goalkeeper Kevin Koshy the wrong way, but his effort ended up hitting the post.

Boosted partly by that miss and in part by the abundance of youth in their ranks, Aizawl hit back with pace and even conjured up some half chances of their own on the Sreenidi goal, albeit with little threat or reward. Those attacks came at a price, as gaps began to appear in their backline.

In the 28th minute, finally, Sreenidi struck home in the most anticlimactic way possible. From a long throw-in, Eli Sabia used his physicality to head the ball into the danger zone, allowing Lalromawia to shoot at goal from 10 yards out. His shot was blocked but the rebound fell to Castaneda, who slotted the ball in.

Aizawl hit almost straight back upon the restart, after a sustained period of pressure on the Sreenidi goal. From a well worked short corner, Lalthanmawia curled a brilliant cross near the penalty spot. Lalthankhuma met the ball perfectly with his head but somehow, brilliantly, Albino Gomes palmed the ball away, albeit straight into the path of Joe Zoherliana, who gratefully slotted it in.

Just when it seemed like the momentum had swung in favour of the home team, disaster struck. Lalthankhuma picked up a second yellow for a foul on the touchline to get his marching orders, reducing his team to 10. Sreenidi duly capitalised and in the 66th minute, Faysal Shayesteh’s corner was flicked on by Castaneda towards Eli Sabia inside the six-yard area. The defender’s looped header went in despite the best efforts of a diving Koshy.

Ibrahim Sissoko added a brilliant third in the 83rd minute after exchanging passes with Lalbiakliana at the edge of the box before curling his effort into the top corner. The pick of the bunch came from Brandon Vanlalremdika in the 90th minute of the game. Having picked up a loose ball 40 yards from goal, he drove towards it, before unleashing an inch perfect effort from outside the box into the bottom corner for Sreenidi’s fourth. Kean Lewis danced into the box from the left to put a perfect cross for Sissoko to volley in his second and wrap up a memorable evening for the visitors.

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