Mark Sifneos cancelled out Marcelinho’s goal to give Kerala Blasters FC a vital draw (1-1) on the return of David James as head coach against FC Pune City in a Hero Indian Super League battle at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Thursday.
Kerala Blasters, last year’s finalists, are still winless in three matches but home fans will be happy to see a more direct approach bring some positive moments in a match that could have gone either way.
Marcelinho played a neat give-and-go with Ashique Kuruniyan, opened his body towards his left side and produced a neat finish in the 33rd minute to give the visitors a well-deserved lead. But Kerala’s equaliser, which came in the 73rd minute, was equally well worked. Courage Pekuson escaped his marker down the left and made the right decision to cut it back for Sifneos. The Dutchman took it first time with his left foot – kept it low – and applied enough power to beat goalkeeper Vishal Kaith.
The point keeps the Blasters in the eighth position, but more importantly, takes Pune City to the top of the table.
The first belonged to Pune, and suspended coach Ranko Popovic, watching from the stands, will be disappointed that his side were not a few goals ahead at the break.
Pune started in thunderous fashion. Adil Khan’s header across the face of goal went begging. Then Emiliano Alfaro took a sharp shot after a quick turn before making a decoy run down the right to allow Marcelinho space through the middle. The resulting shot was wide though. The pressure was telling when Kerala goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury spilt a harmless shot only to see Lalruatthara save blushes with a timely clearance.
Sandesh Jhingan’s excellent defence came to the fore again when he had to stop two fine chances for the visitors. He blocked a speeding Alfaro first before stopping Jonathan Lucca who was also through on goal. Two excellently timed challenges personified his abilities.
The second half was not as open as the first, with Kerala’s defence tightening after what must have been a fiery half-time team talk. In fact, in the last quarter of an hour, they produced some scintillating football going forward. Barely two minutes after it was 1-1, Pekuson made a run down the right, his dummy beat his marker and the rebound from the impending pass found Sifneos. This time though, Kaith came off his line quickly to smother the ball.
But it was the chance in the 88th minute that really should have given Kerala three points. Pekuson, playing in a free role, bulldozed through the middle but his fizzing shot went wide from about 10 yards out. The crowd held its breath, expecting a winner, but that’s as far as it got.