ISL: Nicolas Anelka fires Mumbai City FC to 1-0 victory over Kerala Blasters
It was narrow, but it was a return to winning ways for Mumbai City FC as they edged out Kerala Blasters 1-0 at home to net a much needed three points. And it was their spearhead Nicolas Anelka who was the difference in the end between the two sides as he gave Mumbai the goal their superb effort merited.
Mumbai took Peter Costa out, Syed Rahim Nabi played at left-back while Deepak Mondal played at right-back. Czech centre-back Pavel Cmovs returned to the eleven after his suspension and Anelka made his home debut for Reid’s team. Kerala made two changes to their side with Sandip Nandy replacing the injured David James between the posts and Ishfaq Ahmed replacing Mehtab Hossain in defensive midfield.
Mumbai grew into the first half gradually
Mumbai got into their passing rhythm early as they stroked the ball around nicely and exerted some early pressure. However, no chances came off it and Kerala slowly began to get into the game themselves.
The alarm bells rang loud for Mumbai on nine minutes as Cmovs played a rather careless back-pass to his keeper with Iain Hume lurking around. Luckily, Subrata Paul got to it before the Kerala frontman could. The first goal attempt of the game fell to the home side when Anelka was played through beautifully by Andre Moritz. The Brazilian was at the forefront of most good Mumbai forays with Nirmal Chettri forced into a flying header a few minutes later to clear a dangerous aerial ball from Moritz.
Forward Pedro Gusmao was very bright for Kerala in the first half, marauding down the right flank. French centre-back Cedric Hengbart had the best chance of the half when he met Pearson’s excellent corner, but had his shot saved by Paul.
Barring the early scare with his back-pass, the returning Cmovs had a good first half, stepping in to avert danger on quite a few occasions. His team looked to get Anelka going with Jan Stohanzl and the rest of the midfield trying to play the Frenchman through on numerous occasions.
And it was the Frenchman who broke the deadlock, not from open play though. With a minute to go to half-time, Mumbai earned a free-kick just outside the box when Ahmed brought down Stohanzl. Anelka stepped up and put the ball past the diving keeper to give Mumbai the lead going into the break.
The home team controlled the second half
Kerala had a jittery start in the second half with keeper Nandy coming out to make a clearance before scurrying back to save Anelka’s resulting shot on goal. The Blasters also made an early change just four minutes into the second with captain Penn Orji replaced by Nikolas Barisic.
Mumbai looked to capitalize on the momentum from the goal and got some early attacks going. Stohanzl was put through by Moritz on one occasion, but he blasted his shot over the goal. For Kerala, Sandesh Jhingan went close as he managed to cut past his defender, but saw his shot deflected wide.
On the hour mark, Mumbai brought on Nadong Bhutia for Didika and were by now beginning to exert some serious domination with Anelka beginning to really showcase his skills. He was playing facilitator beautifully and set up Subhash Singh for a chance on 74 minutes, but the Manipuri forward fired over the crossbar.
With three minutes to go though, Moritz really should have put the game beyond doubt. Anelka, this time from the left, made an incisive run into the box and fired a shot which was deflected by Nandy and fell into the path of Moritz. But the Brazilian contrived to fire it wide of the post. Bhutia too went close in sealing the deal for Mumbai, but saw his shut thud off the crossbar on the stroke of 90 minutes.
The lone goal in the first half proved to be enough in the end as Kerala could not quite mount a fight back as Mumbai led by the dazzling Anelka exerted greater control in the second half to end up on the winning side, though they really should have had a few more goals.
The result takes Mumbai off the bottom of the table and into fourth place with six points while Kerala fall one spot below Mumbai in sixth place with four points. Anelka, whose goal and overall performance proved key for Mumbai, walked away with the Player of the Match honours.