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Kozhikode, Feb 17 (PTI) East Bengal's title aspirations went up in smoke as newcomers Gokulam Kerala FC came from behind to record a stunning 2-1 win in the I-League here today.
Although Katsumi Yusa gave the visitors a lead from the penalty spot in the added minutes of the first half, Bino Goerge’s boys made a stunning comeback after the lemon break to take the game away by the scruff of the neck.
Their Nagaland-born striker Kivi Khimoni restored parity six minutes into the second half before Salam Ranjan Singh scored an own goal on 87 minutes to fall prey to the Kerala outfit after it humbled Mohun Bagan in Kolkata in their last fixture.
Coach Khalid Jamil expressed in the press conference that the visitors went all guns blazing in their quest for three points, which would have taken them to the second spot on the points table, bettering Minerva Punjab FC thanks to their better head-to-head record.
Dudu Omagbemi and Katsumi were trying hard to choke Gokulam Kerala FC defence but they stood tall between the East Bengal attackers and the target.
Al Amna nutmegged three defenders and unleashed a juicy delivery to Samad Ali Mullick but he failed to make the best out of it in the 4th minute.
Bino George had to go for an early change as Alajmi got himself injured in the 35th minute and eventually, the Bahrainian midfielder got substituted by Arjun Jayaraj, who played a significant role in netting their second goal.
Emmanuel Chigozie invited a spot-kick in the added minutes of the first-half when he hackled down Cavin Lobo inside the box. Katsumi Yusa had little problem perplexing Bilal Khan to send the travelling fans into a rapture before the referee signalled the half-time.
It was a completely changed Kerala outfit after the changeover as their attackers started pushing East Bengal defenders harder and eventually Kivi Zhimonu found the back of the net in the 51st minute.
Henry sidefooted a ball which came into Kivi’s way and the striker bombed a powerful shot which rattled the back of the net to cancel the visitors’ lead.
Henry could have netted a brace had the woodwork not betrayed him twice in the second half. Henry’s left-footed long-ranger ricocheted off the woodwork but Kivi’s header went haywire in the 76th minute.
Seven minutes later, the striker’s fate betrayed him once again when he hit the crossbar from a powerful header of Irshad’s cross.
Eventually, Henry played a crucial role setting up their second goal when he passed it onto an onrushing Arjun Jayaraj who was left unmarked by the East Bengal defenders.
The first-half substitute passed a low delivery which was netted wrongfully by Salam Ranjan to increase Khalid Jamil’s troubles.
The match heated up as the referee had to give a couple of marching order towards the final whistle. Following a tad scuffle on the pitch, Md. Irshad was shown a red and a rough challenge on Arjun forced the referee to give East Bengal skipper Arnab Mondal another marching order. Following the win, Gokulam Kerala FC rise to the eighth spot with 16 points in their kitty from 14 matches whereas East Bengal stay rooted to the third spot with 26 points having played one match more