It is tough to keep one’s chin up when results do not come match after match despite the hard work. But Mohammedan Sporting coach Kibu Vicuna and his boys did that and finally, here at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan, on Sunday the black-and-white brigade defeated Gokulam Kerala 2-1 to boost their chances of surviving in the I-League. On the other hand, the defending champions moved farther away from the dream of making a hat-trick of I-League championship wins.
After a long time, Mohammedan Sporting was the better team in all aspects. They had the lion’s share of ball possession (61 per cent) and all their changes worked. Even though Mohammedan fell behind in the 14th minute of the match, they never looked down and out. They kept creating scoring opportunities till the lemon break. In the second half, they clearly dominated the proceedings.
Vicuna made a double change after the break. He brought in Faisal Ali and Abhisek Halder in midfield, which changed the complexion of the match. Forwards Abiola Dauda and Marcus Joseph were combining well right from kick-off, but they started getting more balls now. For a quarter of an hour from the 54th minute, it looked like a matter of time before Mohammedan scored. At that point, Joseph had a bicycle kick on target, albeit straight into the hands of Gokulam goalkeeper Shibinraj Kunniyil. In the very next minute, Sheikh Faiaz crossed from the left and a Gokulam defender’s error sent it on to Dauda at the far post. Kunniyil managed to palm it out for a corner.
Kunniyil denied Mohammedan once again in the 61st minute. Nikola Stojanovic was brought down right outside the Gokulam box and Joseph’s powerful grounder went past the five-man wall. But Kunniyil dived to his right to stop it.
However, he could not do much about Dauda’s calm header in the 67th minute, despite his marker close by. Halder found him near the left post with a beautiful chip from outside the box. It was 1-1. Gokulam was hardly catching their breath when Nikola’s right-footer just missed the goal and landed on the roof of the net.
There was no coming back for Gokulam. Nikola would have settled the issue in the 88th minute itself, but he was extremely unlucky. He took a short corner from the right, came in to get the ball back and unleashed a booming left-footer. A falling Kunniyil could only get his right leg out. Despite getting that touch, the ball was going in but hit the crossbar in the end to go out for another corner.
The winner finally came in the second minute of stoppage time through Hero of the Match Kevin Lewis. It can be called poetic justice that he scored that stunning winner because right through the match, he had been a thorn in Gokulam’s flesh down the left flank. Lewis shot with his right foot from 20 yards out. Kunniyil flung himself in the air but could not even get close as the ball got in through the near post.
Gokulam got a couple of real chances in the entire match. That, too, in the first quarter of an hour. Tanmoy Ghosh took a well-planned corner in the 13th minute, keeping the ball on the ground to find Farshad Noor. But his powerful grounder was deflected out.
Gokulam’s goal came from the resultant corner, which was again a short corner. Right winger T Shijin crossed to Hakku in the box, who headed it in. Mohammedan goalie Mithun Samanta did get a hand to it, but it was not enough.
Mohammedan Sporting are now in the ninth spot on the Hero I-League table with 20 points from 17 matches, while Gokulam Kerala is fourth with 24 points from 16. (ANI)