In what was an eventful 'South India Derby', Kerala Blasters came out victors. They went from being a goal down to win by a flattering 3-1 scoreline and earn three valuable points. However, they have their opponents Chennaiyin FC to thank for several generous gestures throughout the match. Here are three key talking points from the match:
Chennaiyin's dominance without results:
Chennaiyin FC clearly had the upper hand throughout the first half. Their first clear cut chance came as early as the second minute, when Mehrajudin Wadoo's ball into the area, meant for Dudu Omagbemy, fell into the path of Jeje Lalpekhlua. The Indian international's shot on the bounce was a tame effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Bernard Mendy started as a left winger, clearly inspired by the goal he scored in the last match, and it nearly paid off immediately. Mendy had the ball in a good position with space and time. His shot, however, was deflected wide. From the resultant corner, the ball fell to him again off Eli Sabia's header, but the Frenchman couldn't connect. When he finally claimed a goal, it looked more of an effort to find Jeje's run, and went in after taking a wicked deflection off Cedric Hengbart.
Jeje himself had a night to forget — three handballs while receiving long balls in dangerous positions in the first half alone. He was no better in the second — caught ball watching and hence offside at the 50th minute. Then, six minutes later, after some good exchange of passes with Jayesh Rane, he passed to Dudu, who was in an obviously offside position. It was that kind of a night for Jeje.
Dudu himself was also inept. He had two wonderful opportunities to seal the game in the first half but squandered both. The first move, in the 30th minute, began with Raphael Augusto, who provided the pass to Mendy for the goal earlier. Mendy drew a couple of defenders and passed it back to Augusto, who beautifully found Jerry with space. Jerry then set Mendy free, who ran ahead to the byline and sent a slightly deflected ball to Dudu. Dudu shot over.
At the end of the first half, Augusto's beautiful chested down touch took the ball past his midfield adversaries. He then set Dudu free, and the Nigerian ran past one, then two defenders. With only the keeper to beat, he scuffed his shot wide. These misses proved very, very costly.
Individual errors lead Kerala comeback:
Kerala came back in the match after the break with strong intent. Their early siege seemed to be well managed by the Chennaiyin defence, until the first chink in the armour appeared in the 54th minute. Duwayne Kerr had a rush of blood, and charged out after Antonio German seemed to be through on goal. His kick on German, who tumbled due to the contact, resulted in a yellow card for simulation for the Kerala forward.
But karma soon caught up with Chennaiyin soon. A clearance from the left flank was heading towards the corner flag, and Antonio German was chasing Eli Sabia who was on the job. Sabia clearly didn't like German's pressing and harrying, and at one point stopped to protest. This gave the Kerala attacker a crucial headstart, and he ran towards the byline. Sabia was not at hand to prevent the cross, which went to the other substitute Didier Kadio, who simply had to tap in. Game on.
The next error came from Duwayne "cannot keep a clean sheet" Kerr. He dropped the ball after a dangerous cross from Josu Carrais into the path of CK Vineeth. The Bengaluru FC man, already considered a hero among fans for his 97th minute winner against FC Goa, made no mistake with a sumptuous finish with five minutes to go on the clock.
Marco Materazzi threw the kitchen sink, introducing David Succi for John Arne Riise. The change had an instant impact, except at the other end; Chennaiyin FC were caught out of possession trying to look for an equaliser. Their defence was absent and German found Vineeth with acres of space down the right. Vineeth ran to meet with an inch perfect ball and provided a clinical finish. Game over.
The only way is up, but can they?
Materazzi made five changes for this match. Kerr returned to the side, as did marquee player John Arne Riise. Zakeer Mundampara, who had some solid performances last season, got his first start this season. Jeje was restored in a two-man attack (the other being Dudu Omagbemy); Jayesh Rane was the other incomer in place of Baljit Sahni.
Before the season began, Chennaiyin FC were considered defensively strong. In the nine games played so far, they have three clean sheets (second best in the league), but a tournament high of 14 goals conceded (seven in the last two games alone). Given their misfiring attack, defensive stability was very important. But what they have is a defence that is akin to Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.
Manager Marco Materazzi has his task cut out. They are somehow getting chances to score goals, but it's the defence that Chennaiyin as a team would need to rectify soon.