When the calendar read November 8, 2016, and the clock struck 7 pm, Kerala Blasters kicked off their game against an out-of-form FC Goa side at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi. The Blasters were second from bottom with only their opponents FC Goa below them.
Though their form and position on the table wasn’t anything that would excite the Kerala fans, they would have cheered the return of the Bengaluru FC duo of Rino Anto and CK Vineeth after their AFC Cup final clash. Both players are Keralites and players the fans could relate to.
Things did not start as planned, with Rafael Coelho putting the visitors ahead as he found himself at the end of a free kick sent into the box by Richarlyson. FC Goa continued to dominate the proceedings in the first half and went back to the dressing room a goal ahead.
Goa, desperate for a win, went defensive with Trindade coming on to replace the goal-scorer Rafael Coelho at the start of the second half. Though not directly affected by the substitution, Goa gave away a penalty within a minute of restart and, with the goal-scorer now off, the move seemed to have backfired.
As it panned out, after minutes of fiasco, Kelvens Belfort stepped up to convert the penalty in the 48th minute to restore parity for the Kerala Blasters. The hosts seemed to be getting more into the game and were controlling it against 10 men, but failing to find the back of the net.
Back with a bang
It was at the 80th-minute mark when Steve Coppel introduced the returning forward Vineeth, with an aim to find the back of the net for his side and help them climb up. The move proved lucky as FC Goa got down to nine men within a couple of minutes of Vineeth’s introduction, with Richarlyson seeing his second yellow card for retrospective action.
Just when it seemed the game would end even, Vineeth grabbed a last-gasp winner to help Kerala Blasters win 2-1 and rise a position above to sixth. More importantly, the goal scored in the ninth minute of extra time restored belief in the side and pumped them up for the upcoming Southern Derby.
Four days later, Kerala Blasters met Chennaiyin FC and the story begun on similar note. The visitors, Chennaiyin, went ahead through Bernard Mendy in the first half and while Kerala Blasters tried to crawl their way back, there was no one to put the ball into the back of the net.
Things got worse for the Blasters as the Mendy goal was followed by their prolific forward Belfort being forced off with an injury. It was yet again a Blasters substitute who changed things around as Didier Kadio got to the end of an Antono German ball to net the equaliser. Getting a strong hold of the game, the Blasters then pushed hard for a win.
Their constant pressure paid off as Kerr’s mistake let the ball roll to the feet of Vineeth, who sent it into the back of the net with a flying kick to put Kerala 2-1 ahead. Minutes later, Vineeth, with his goal-scoring instincts, made a great run forward to open space for German to play the ball, and he obliged. Vineeth did not let the chance go and sealed the game with his second of the match.
Unlike most teams in the ISL who failed to kill games and lost vital points, Kerala Blasters had put the game to bed. Vineeth had given Kerala a new edge and instinct as they managed to kill the game when they needed to the most.
Kerala Blasters, who were seventh in the table at 7 pm on November 8, climbed up to second by 9 pm on November 12. A big shout out for the dramatic rise deservedly went to Vineeth, who with three goals in two games, has given Kerala a new hope.
Kerala Blasters began the season slowly. As the tournament progressed, their frontline managed to create a fair number of chances but failed to be clinical. Kerala were riding forward and backed their defensive strength, but on days when their backline was put under pressure and exposed, the team looked like falling flat.
But that was only till the arrival of Vineeth. The Bengaluru FC forward added a new dimension to the Kerala Blasters side. A player who has made it up the hard way, Vineeth’s resilience and committment has seen him turn into a different player and one who seldom misses the goal.
With a strong defense line-up of Sandesh Jhingan, Hengbart and Aaron Hughes shielding the Kerala Blasters goal, and Vineeth to support the likes of Belfort and German with goals, it augurs well for Kerala Blasters getting into the end stages of the league round. And if Vineeth can continue to be as sharp as he has been in the first couple of games, the yellow brigade is all set to put their foot forward into the semis.