A Dimitrios Diamantakos brace against NorthEast United FC lifted Kerala Blasters FC up into third place in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Sunday.
The Greek striker scored two goals in two minutes in the first half to secure a 2-0 scoreline and three crucial points for the Blasters after they had lost their last two games.
The hosts made six changes in their bid to turn around their form. Karanjit Singh made his Blasters debut, also his 50th Hero ISL appearance, between the sticks. Harmanjot Khabra and Jessel Carneiro replaced Sandeep Singh and Nishu Kumar in defence as Bryce Miranda, Rahul KP and Apostolos Giannou were included in the starting XI, with Saurav Mandal, Ivan Kaliuzhnyi and Sahal Samad dropping to the bench.
The visitors made four changes as Arindam Bhattacharja replaced Mirshad Michu in goal. Gurjinder Kumar replaced Hira Mondal at left-back and Emil Benny came in for Rochharzela. New signing Joseba Beitia was given his first start as NorthEast United FC took the field without their suspended skipper Wilmar Gil.
The hosts’ plans paid off early, as they dominated possession and had plenty of opportunities in the final third. Most of their chances came from the wide areas with Miranda and Rahul KP being troublesome down the flanks. Giannou and Adrian Luna missed opportunities from a couple of low crosses, while Bhattacharja denied Diamantakos five minutes from the break.
However, the shot-stopper could not keep the Greek striker at bay for long as two quickfire goals changed the complexion of the game just before half time. The first goal came after a quick Carneiro throw-in to Miranda that caught the NEUFC defence napping. The winger’s eventual cross was met by a thumping header that opened the scoring.
Just two minutes later, the lead was doubled after Luna lofted a sublime ball through to Diamantakos, who skipped the offside trap, took his time, and smashed the ball in at the near post with aplomb.
The second half started exactly the way the first half ended, as the Blasters continued to pile the pressure on the Highlanders in the opening five minutes. In the 68th minute, Romain Philippoteaux’s curling effort was aimed straight at the keeper. That was NorthEast United’s first shot on target.
In the 77th minute, substitute Parthib Gogoi whipped a low cross into the box that beat Adrian Luna and fell to Philippoteaux right in front of goal. However, the attacker side-footed it wide from close range as his side’s best chance of the match went begging. The Blasters dominated the second half as well, with Ruivah Hormipam coming the closest to adding a third when his header came off the crossbar in stoppage time.
Kerala Blasters FC will aim to keep hold of the third spot by adding more points to their tally next week when they play East Bengal FC on February 3. NorthEast United FC will have a chance to close the gap to Jamshedpur FC when they play them next on February 4.