What a transformation! Despite the odds heavily stacked against it, a 10-man Kerala Blasters FC stunningly forced Chennaiyin FC to a 1-1 draw in the Indian Super League at the Nehru Stadium here on Saturday night.
Blasters were coming home after a four-game losing streak which saw the exit of its head coach Peter Taylor and Chennaiyin, known for its attacking game and with stars like the league’s joint top-scorer John Stiven Mendoza and Elano Blumer, started as the big favourite.
But it was Blasters, who played the last 18 minutes with just 10 men and walked away with their heads held high. Chennaiyin’s goal came through a penalty too, through Elano in the 33rd minute, while the home side’s English striker Chris Dagnall, the hero of the match, came up with the Blasters’ equaliser with a stunning header soon after the break.
As expected, Blasters dropped Taylor’s favourite 5-3-2 and chose the 4-3-1-2 system with Sanchez Watt playing just behind the two strikers Mohammed Rafi and Dagnall. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin stuck to its regular 4-4-1-1 in the match which was played under a steady drizzle. Both sides made three changes from its last game.
Joao Coimbra, the Portuguese midfielder, made Blasters look lethal tonight, working his way up nicely and sending a steady stream of crosses to the forwards till his exit in the 40th minute after a back injury.
At the half-hour mark, Coimbra sent a lovely through cross to Chris Dagnall. With the crowd roaring, the English striker raced into the box but got into a tangle with the goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
Chennaiyin took the lead soon after, through a penalty. Sandesh Jhingan, who got away scot-free when he pulled down the dangerous Mendoza a few moments earlier just outside the penalty area, appeared to bring down the Colombian striker inside the box following a collision in the 33rd minute. Elano comfortably slotted it home, sending it to the left corner, giving Bywater no chance.
Bywater was tested once again when Mendoza turned and fired a fiery shot from the top of the box but this time the home goalkeeper made a splendid save. Chennaiyin went into the break with a happy lead but the home side struck the equaliser stunningly soon after the break. The move started on the left with the young Spaniard Josu Currias Prieto, who came in for Coimbra, following which left-back Saumik Dey sent a curling floater to Dagnall.
The Englishman was quick to react and headed it home to the joy of nearly-48,000 fans.
Blasters got a penalty too when its captain Peter Ramage was brought down by the Chennaiyin defender Mailson Alves inside the box as the goalkeeper Karanjit rose to save a long-ranger. Josu took the penalty but Karanjit anticipated the shot well, diving to his left to make a brilliant save.
Karanjit had an outstanding day. He made two more good saves before the hour-mark, pushing away a curling Josu freekick and a little later, a Dagnall header from close range, following another Josu freekick.
Meanwhile, Bywater made a couple of smart saves denying Elano and Mendoza in quick succession around the 70th minute. Rafi saw his header go wide for Blasters.
The Kerala side suffered a massive setback in the 74th minute when its tall Brazilian midfielder Bruno Perone’s boot hit Mendoza’s jaw as he jumped and turned to thwart the Colombian’s dangerous move forward. Was it intentional? The referee thought so and gave Perone the marching orders. But despite being a man down, the home side put up a brave face and finished with honours even.
The result: Chennaiyin 1 (Elano Blumer 34rd min., penalty) drew with v Kerala Blasters 1 (Chris Dagnall 46th).
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