Srinagar: Real Kashmir upstaged Chennai City FC for the second time, clinching a 1-0 victory over the table-toppers in freezing conditions to leave the I-League title race wide open on Monday.
Ivorian striker Gnohere Krizo struck in the 81st minute to extend Real Kashmir's unbeaten run to 10 matches and send the home supporters, who braved the near freezing temperature at the TRC ground, into wild celebrations.
With three points from Monday's win, the Srinagar-based I-League debutants joined Churchill Brothers at the second spot with 28 points each from 14 matches and narrowed down the gap with leaders Chennai (30 points from 14 matches) to just two points.
Real Kashmir dominated throughout the match with a lot of shots at the opposition goal while Chennai had far fewer attempts. The woodwork also denied the 'Snow Leopards' another goal towards the end.
After the match, Real Kashmir head coach David Robertson said, "This was a tough match for us since we were fighting against the league leaders. I am pleased with the performance of the boys, they showed some real dedication to win. We did have a couple of missed chances but that's how the game goes."
Real Kashmir had defeated Chennai by a similar margin in the first leg in Coimbatore last year in December. The win kept them in title hunt with six matches more to come in the top-flight league.
Since losing to Mohun Bagan on 20 November at the same venue, Real Kashmir have won six and drawn three before Monday's victory. They were playing at home after being on the road for the last one month during which they won three and drew an equal number of matches.
Chennai, on the other hand, have not been beaten by any other side apart from Real Kashmir.
Monday's game was played at 1 degree Celsius with snow covering the ground during morning practice but more than 10,000 home supporters turned up to cheer their club and they returned home happy after braving the conditions.
The game began at great pace as both the teams tried to get the early lead. While Chennai played their brand of swift passing football with a Spanish flavour to it, Kashmir were more reliant on aerial counter-attacks, depending on the hold-up play of Mason Robertson and Krizo.
The two teams were locked in an intense midfield battle with Chennai clearly struggling to find the rhythm in the opening minutes.
The first real chance of the match came in the 35th minute when Krizo broke free of the Chennai defence and had just goalkeeper Santana Garcia to beat in front of him. However, Santana produced a fine save off the Ivorian's volley to keep the scores level.
Real Kashmir did most of the attacking in the first half with Chennai busy defending their citadel. If it was not for Chennai goalkeeper Santana's fine saves, Real Kashmir would have been ahead at the half-time breather.
The second half was not too different with the home side threatening to take the lead but their forwards kept wasting chances. Zambian import Aaaron Katebe headed a corner over the bar in the 47th minute.
Krizo had another great opportunity in the 72nd minute when Mason Robertson, son of Real Kashmir head coach David, headed him through. The Ivorian dribbled past two defenders and unleashed a fine shot but Santana was up to the task.
With just nine minutes of regulation time left on the clock, Real Kashmir finally earned the rewards for keeping up the attacking pressure when Krizo headed home a cross floated in by Danish Farooq from the right flank.
Real Kashmir could have doubled their lead four minutes later but Bazie Armand hit a Surchandra corner onto the crossbar.
Sandeep Chattoo and Shamim Meraj, co-founders of Real Kashmir FC, said, "We are thrilled by this victory, from now on we are going for the kill and will try our best to nail the title."
Real Kashmir next travel to Goa to take on Churchill Brothers on 31 January while Chennai City will continue their journey on the road as they next face Indian Arrows on 8 February.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2019 18:56:57 IST