Gokulam Kerala FC rallied back from a goal down to win 3-1 against Sethu FC and secure their second consecutive Indian Women's League title at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar on Thursday to create history.
Bringing an incredible IWL season to a close, the Malabarians went unbeaten throughout the 11-game stretch and breezed past every hurdle.
Coming into the fixture, the Calicut club had a slight advantage as they were ahead on goal difference and just needed a draw to seal the title. Hence, Sethu FC needed to go all out and win the game.
Right from the first whistle, the Madurai side started on the front foot, pressing and pinning down the Gokulam Kerala midfield. In the third minute itself, midfielder Anju Tamang unleashed a long-range effort but it took a wicked deflection off a Gokulam defender. Skipper Ashalata Devi misjudged the flight of the ball and Renu Rani sneaked in between the defenders to head home the first goal of the night.
The former champions had taken a shock lead and Gokulam were visibly left distraught. However, head coach Anthony Andrews rallied his troops well following the initial blip as the Malabarians went in search of the equalizer. It didn't take them long.
In the 12th minute, Michel Castanha bought down Elshaddai Acheampong inside the Sethu FC box and the referee awarded a penalty to the reigning champions. Ashalata Devi stepped up to take the spot kick and converted it with ease. Sethu custodian Sowmiya Naraya judged the trajectory correctly but couldn't keep the ball out.
Gokulam Kerala restored parity and the switch in their demeanour told you that they were looking for blood. But the Tamil Nadu side were no pushovers. They carved out a half-chance in the 25th minute when Kioko Elizabeth did well to win the ball near the touchline and set Renu through. However, the latter's shot from an acute angle went just wide of the target.
Rejuvenated after the cooling break, Gokulam came out hungry for a goal and the ever-reliant Elshaddai answered their calls almost immediately. The Ghanaian forward was the quickest to react as a cross from Manisha Kalyan caused chaos inside the Sethu FC box. Elshaddai tapped home her 20th goal of the season and arguably Gokulam's most pivotal one.
In the 40th minute, the Malabarians doubled their lead through Manisha Kalyan, eventually killing any hope of Sethu FC to get back into the game. Soumya Guguloth whipped in a cross from the left and Elshaddai turned provider as she pulled the ball back for Manisha. The Indian winger made no mistake from point-blank range.
Buzzing after scoring the crucial third goal, the Gokulam players went into half-time with a wide smile on their faces.
Gokulam Kerala flaunt their superiorty and see off the tie
Sethu FC came out after a break with an almost impossible task on their hands -- crawling back from a two-goal deficit to win the tie. However, Crispin Chettri marshalled his troops well as they came out confident.
Gokulam Kerala gave away possession cheaply in the 52nd minute and an unlikely chance presented itself to Sethu FC. However, Ritu Rani's shot from the edge of the box went just wide of the target.
Soon after, the Madurai side had another opportunity when Kioko Elizabeth got inside the Gokulam box but skipper Ashalata Devi stepped in with a crucial challenge.
The intensity fizzed out of the game a little bit as Sethu FC realized that the IWL title was slowly slipping out of their hands. Elshaddai made a glorious run at the other end of the pitch but Arifa Zaheer put in an admirable tackle.
Nearing the 80-minute mark, Sethu FC's Kenyan forward had another opportunity to break the Gokulam defence when Sandhiya Ranganathan whipped in a delicious cross. Elizabeth's header was wide of the target.
The proceedings continued in a similar manner as Sethu FC continued to hunt for an unlikely goal. But the Malabarians expertly saw off the tie and cliched the IWL title.
Meanwhile, Crispin Chhetri and Sethu FC, with broken hearts, finished a close second with just a single loss in the tournament.