Taking advantage of the home conditions, Real Kashmir on Thursday scored their first victory of the ongoing I League season with a 2-1 defeat of the defending champions Chennai City FC.
Danish Farooq (22nd minute) and Ivory Coast Bazie Armand (27th) scored for the winners while Syed Suhail Pasha was the lone scorer for the visitors as he found the net in the 48th minute.
Real Kashmir had drawn their away matches against Kolkata giants East Bengal and Tiddim Road Athletic Union of Imphal before taking on the holders.
It was the first big sporting event in the valley since it became a union territory.
The abrogation of Article 370 and the ensuing lockdown in the valley had raised security concerns, but Real Kashmir had made elaborate arrangements, reported PTI.
With this win, Real Kashmir leapfrogged CCFC to move into seventh place with five points. The southern side have endured a shaky start to the new campaign, and are now eighth, behind Real Kashmir on goal difference.
Farooq gave the hosts the lead before Armand doubled their advantage.
David Robertson made just a couple of changes to his previous line-up. Singam Subash Singh started upfront at the expense of Gnohere Krizo, who made the bench. At the back, Armand was given the nod ahead of Dalraj Singh.
Chennai City, despite not hitting full throttle in the league yet, made just one change. Akbar Nawas named Pradison Marivadasan in his starting XI, with Bijay Chhetri making way for him.
Back in front of their home fans, Snow Leopards kicked off the proceedings, staying firmly in the driving seat. Their quick and fluidic, yet disciplined passing and movement was almost too much for Chennai to handle in the early stages.
The first opening of the match arrived in the seventh minute, when a crossfrom Kallum Higginbotham found Mason Robertson, who tried a chip over Nauzet Garcia Santana, but the Chennai custodian exhibited quick reflexes to deny him.
In the 13th minute, some smart footwork by Farooq, followed by a flick with his weaker foot put Higginbotham through down the right.
The Englishman bulldozed his way into the six-yard box and passed it across goal for Mason Robertson to tap it into an open net, but the ever-so-reliable Scot made a total hash of it, flicking it over instead which again fell to a lurking Bazie Armand and to everyone’s surprise, he missed the target too.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 22nd minute, when a set-piece delivery from Higginbotham found Farooq in the box, who waved off his marker and made just the right contact with his head, to give Real Kashmir the lead. Santana got a hand to it, but to no avail.
The hosts were turning on the style and doubled their lead in the 27th minute. Yet again, it was Higginbotham who was involved in the mix.
He cut inside on the left, which created some space for him to deliver a ball into the eighteen box and Armand was at the right place and at the right time to soar the highest and head it into the top corner, leaving Santana stranded between the sticks.
Kashmir almost added a third in the 39th minute, when Robertson was through yet again and with Roberto Eslava on his toes, he took it past the Chennai skipper and fired across goal aiming for the far post, but it sailed inches wide.
Chennai City came out in the second half, knowing very well that they need to pull one back sooner rather than later.
The visitors put their half time team talk into practice when they reduced the deficit in the 48th minute. A cheeky back flick by Pravitto Rajju generated just the right elevation for Jockson Dhas to head it past Phurba Lachenpa in the Kashmir goal to bring the game right back in the balance.
Despite Chennai’s newfound surge, it was Kashmir, however, who looked likelier to score the next goal.
In the 68th minute, the game should have been put to bed but Loveday Okechukwu, who was completely unmarked failed to tap in another Higginbotham set-piece, blasting it wide.
In the closing stages of the game, the visitors failed to pose any real threat as the Snow Leopards held on to register their first win of their I-League campaign, duly rewarding the Srinagar aficionados who braved the cold to get firmly behind their team.
The win takes Real Kashmir to seventh place in the Hero I-League standings with five points, while the defending champions drop to eighth place with the same tally, but with an inferior goal difference of -2.
Local lad Farooq was adjudged to be the player of the match.
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