ISL: Kerala Blasters through to final as extra-time goal knocks valiant Chennaiyin out
A valiant affort from Chennaiyin FC was not enough as a 117th minute goal from Stephen Pearson sent Kerala Blasters through to the final of the ISL.
Chennai made a host of changes from the first leg, as Marco Materazzi put himself partnering Eric Djemba-Djemba in midfield. Kerala made only one change as Sandhesh Jhingan replaced Nirmal Chhetri.
Chennai began the game with an intensity that was hardly seen from them in their last few matches. Materazzi seemed to want to go at Kerala and that was evident as he was almost playing himself as a third striker in addition to Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jean Eudes Maurice. Kerala's game plan was very clear though. They took their time to take their throw-ins and set-pieces, and that resulted in Jamie McAllister getting booked as early as the 6th minute.
Chennai though, kept piling the pressure, and Bernard Mendy was finding joy on the right flank, but again, Chennai's end product was found missing.
Chennai were given a huge advantage a few minutes later, as McAllister was dispossessed by Mendy, and in an attempt to atone for his mistake, the Scotsman pulled Mendy back, resulting in a second yellow card and an early bath for him.
Kerala almost put the tie to bed as Stephen Pearson played Iain Hume in, but Shilton Paul in the Chennai goal was alert to the danger.
Set piece after set piece was getting wasted for Chennai when Materazzi decided that enough was enough. He himself took a free kick from the left wing, that was won by Abhishek Das. It fell perfectly on the head of Mikael Silvestre who made no mistake with his header and set Chennai on their way. There was more Chennai pressure for the rest of the first half but nothing materialized.
Chennaiyin continue raids in second half
Almost as soon as the match restarted, Chennai had a golden opportunity to peg the deficit back to one goal as Jhingan's push on Maurice resulted in a Chennai penalty. Materazzi stepped up and put the ball in the back of the net, but he was ordered to re-take the penalty as Abhishek Das was found encroaching. Materazzi couldn't put it away on the second time of asking, as he put it wide despite sending Nandy the wrong way.
From then on, Kerala were forced to resort to what some may call anti-football. Yet again, they took as much time as possible to restart play, and went down injured whenever they found an opportunity. Nandy, in particular was a serial offender, as he went down clutching his hamstring at least thrice.
Kerala paid the price for not taking Nandy off even with his injury, as a hopeful ball from Bruno Pelissari was chested back by Jhingan into Nandy's path, but the goalkeeper missed the ball and the ball trickled into the back of the net to give Chennai renewed hope.
David James had had enough of Nandy with that and Luis Barreto was brought on to replace the 39 year old.
As the match headed into injury time, with Chennai still desperate for a goal, Bernard Mendy easily jinked past Jhingan and sent in a perfect cross that was chested in from two yards out by Jeje. The comeback was complete, and the crowd were sent to raptures as the entire Chennai dugout joined the on-field players in celebration.
Chennai sensed the kill, and Elano rifled in a shot from 40 yard out which was palmed away by Barreto for a corner.
First extra time in ISL
That was the last action in normal time, as the ISL saw the advent of extra time for the first time in the league.
There was no notable action in the first period of extra time except two tackles from Materazzi that the referee took offence to. The first one, he slid on Raphael Romey, and the second, he went into a tackle on Milagres Gonsalves with his studs showing.
Late on, neat hold up play from Milagres, saw Stephen Pearson through on goal, and he made no mistake to put the ball inside the far post to give Kerala the aggregate lead.
Kerala saw off the rest of the game, and a place in Mumbai was theirs.