Bottom-placed Kenkre FC managed to keep their hopes of staying up in the I-League alive by recording a resilient 1-0 victory against Real Kashmir FC at the Kalyani Stadium on Sunday, May 1.
Aravindraj Rajan's second-half goal was enough for the Mumbai-based club to stretch the relegation battle to the final day of the season.
Akhil Kothari's men came into the fixture with a pretty simple equation: Win to stay alive in the competition. With that kind of stakes in question, Kenkre tried to slow down the game and opted for a cautious approach. Even as the game passed the first quarter, neither side managed to create any clear-cut opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai side suffered an early setback when Ranjeet Pandre went down with an injury and were forced to go off. Substitute Yash Mhatre was called into action early in the first half.
Kenkre FC looked to be the side on top, dominating possession and creating some half-chances on the go. In the 36th minute, Akeeraj Martins found himself outside the Real Kashmir box with some room. However, the young winger rushed his shot and it sailed wide.
Minutes later, KFC had another opportunity from a corner when Pravitto Raju, unmarked inside the RKFC box, found himself at the end of a looping cross. However, he failed to keep his header on target.
Real Kashmir FC, who were silent for most of the half, had a slim chance to score through Bernard Yao on the stroke of half-time. However, the Ivorian forward failed to trouble the keeper.
Aravindraj Rajan's strike sends Kenkre FC bench into euphoria
While Kenkre FC enjoyed the lion's share of possession, they visibly lacked the attacking quality in the first half to run away with the three points. Meanwhile, coming out after the half-time break, Real Kashmir continued their conservative approach. A draw would have kept them out of the relegation zone and hence the Snow Leopards opted for a cautious start to the half.
But nothing other than a win would work for KFC and Akhil Kothari. The Maharashtrian club kept pushing their men forward.
Identifying the opportunity to hit their opponents on the break, Real Kashmir gaffer David Robertson brought on Tiago Adan in place of Malemngamba Meetei. The Brazilian almost instantly made his impact felt when in the 68th minute when he created a one-on-one situation against Kenkre defender Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw.
Tiago beat his man with some trickery on the ball, created room for the shot and launched his shot towards the near post. The ball grazed the woodwork and went wide.
Minutes later, Real Kashmir came close once again to taking the lead through Bernard when the Ivorian's shot from the edge of the box struck the post and rolled across the line, without going over it. Luck was clearly on Kenkre FC's side. But they still needed to find that elusive goal. And they did.
In the 78th minute, Akhil Kothari's men won a corner and Vijay Nagappan stood over it. His cross was parried away by the RKFC keeper but only as far as Kynsailang Khongsit.
Khongsit's scuffed his attempted volley, however, amongst the crowd in the Real Kashmir box, Aravindraj Rajan was the quickest to react and sneaked the ball into the goal. Kenkre's players and staff went euphoric as Aravindraj took off his jersey and raced towards the stands.
After going a goal down, Real Kashmir grew desperate and tried to sneak out a point. The game evolved into a cagey affair in the final minutes with both sides squabbling for the second ball.
The game was engulfed by more drama in the 89th minute when Kenkre FC keeper Tenzin Samdup brought down Tiago Adan inside the box. Real Kashmir players were convinced that they deserved a penalty and were involved in some brisk shoving and pushing with the referee. While a penalty was not awarded, Ponif Vaz was sent off for dissent.
The final whistle cooled down the tension erupting at the Kalyani Stadium and perfectly set up the relegation battle for the final matchday.