Kerala Blasters FC huffed and puffed their way to a one-goal victory over 10-man NorthEast United FC for their first win of the Indian Super League (ISL) this season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi, last evening.
CK Vineeth, returning from suspension, scored the only goal of the match in the 24th minute as Kerala Blasters maintained their record of never losing to NorthEast United in four years.
The hosts were in an advantageous position for the entire second session as NorthEast goalkeeper TP Rehenesh was sent off with a straight red card in the 43rd minute.
NorthEast could never recover from that blow, although they could not be faulted for lack of effort.
Although Vineeth got the goal that mattered, the Hero of the match was debutant Wes Brown. The former Manchester United defender played his first match for Kerala Blasters and showed what they were missing all along. His solid performance in front of the back four was the key to Kerala's first win this season.
It was NorthEast though who started stronger and with some good fortune could have even taken the lead. Striker Marcinho was a constant threat for the visitors and struck a good understanding with Martin Diaz.
Kerala calmed nerves for the hosts in the 24th minute with a gem of a strike from star man Vineeth. Captain Sandesh Jhingan released Rino Anto on the right with a long ball and Anto, with plenty of space ahead of him, made a superb run forward. He then played an inch-perfect cross inside the NorthEast goalmouth where Vineeth stunned everyone with a flying header.
There was a way back for the visitors but they needed to keep calm. In the 43rd minute, the match took a dramatic turn when Rehenesh was red-carded. From a quick counter-attack, the inspirational Courage Pekuson picked out Mark Sifneos with a through ball and goalkeeper Rehenesh mistimed his jump, catching Sifneos's legs, instead of the ball.
Once the referee flashed the red card at Rehenesh, they were left with a mountain to climb. With the numerical advantage, Kerala always enjoyed the upper hand and it was the upright that thwarted them in the 57th minute when Lalruatthara's close range shot seemed good enough for the second goal.
NorthEast had to rely mostly on counter attacks and they came close to securing an unlikely equaliser with just three minutes left to be played. A corner-kick from substitute Odair Fortes saw Danilo Lopes rise high to head, but the ball sailed agonisingly wide with nobody on hand to tap it home.