A Dipanda Dicka brace helped Punjab FC register a 3-1 victory over Gokulam Kerala in an I-League match at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on Monday.

Sergio Barboza Jr broke the deadlock in the first-half stoppage time before a Henry Kisekka goal drew the visitors level in the 52nd minute. Dicka restored Punjab’s advantage via a free-kick in the 64th minute, before adding his second in stoppage time to seal the three points in emphatic fashion.

Punjab head coach Yan Law named an unchanged starting eleven, choosing not to experiment as the race for the title begins to take shape, with their opponents from Kerala firmly in the equation.

Fernando Varela, on the back of Gokulam’s resounding victory against East Bengal, made just two changes to his side, with Mohamed Irshad and Muthu Irulandi getting the nod in his 3-5-2 formation.

Gokulam did not waste a minute in making their intentions clear, as it took them only 20 seconds after kick-off to rattle the woodwork, as Marcus Joseph went on to have a crack from a distance, but was denied by a fully stretched Kiran Limbu, who did well to get a fingertip and parry it onto the frame of the goal.

In the third minute, it was Joseph again, whose corner took an unexpected swerve towards the goal that caught everyone by surprise, but Limbu did well to react just on time and punch it clear.

Punjab looked all over the place, struggling to find themselves out of their own half with Gokulam in total control.

In the 16th minute, Joseph whipped in a beautiful cross from a set-piece down the right flank, which was met by the toe of Jestin George, but his speculative touch almost paid dividends, as it ricocheted off the near post. The rebound fell to Joseph, but he blasted it wide.

In the 33rd minute, Salman Kalliyath was played through down the right and with only a man to beat, made a total hash of it. Caught between two minds, whether to shoot or pass it to a lurking Kisekka, but in the end, did neither.

Much against the run of play, Punjab took the lead in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. A Cavin Lobo strike from a distance hit Dicka on the way, who knew nothing about it, but the deflection fell kindly to Sergio Barboza Jr who made no mistake in squaring it past the keeper.

Gokulam played all the football, but it was Punjab who walked away with the goal, heading into the break.

In the second half, Gokulam stuck to their game plan and were rewarded in the 52nd minute. It was yet another exquisite Joseph set-piece which found Kisekka whose thundering shot hit the crossbar and went in.

Punjab stuck to a plan, playing out from the back while allowing the visitors more possession. The home side earned a free-kick on the edge of the 18-yard box, yet again in total contrast to the run of play. Dicka stepped up and did just enough to shoot over the wall, leaving Ubaid CK in goal stranded to restore the Punjab side’s advantage.

Punjab added a third in the first minute of stoppage time. With three minutes to go, Ubaid made a horrible error with the ball at his feet.

With Dicka lurking, the Kerala keeper tried to play smart by dribbling past him but his audacious attempt was made to pay, as Dicka snatched the ball from his feet and with the keeper in no man’s land, added a third to seal the three points for Punjab.

The result saw Punjab remain on second place with 14 points, three behind leaders Mohun Bagan, while Gokulam occupy fifth with 10 points.