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I-League 2021-22: Gokulam Kerala FC solidify top spot with a fighting draw against Churchill Brothers SC

Jourdaine Fletcher equalized for Gokulam Kerala FC against Churchill Brothers SC. (Image Courtesy: Twitter/ILeagueOfficial)
Jourdaine Fletcher equalized for Gokulam Kerala FC against Churchill Brothers SC. (Image Courtesy: Twitter/ILeagueOfficial)

Reigning champions Gokulam Kerala FC solidified their position atop the I-League standings with a 1-1 draw against Churchill Brothers SC in the championship playoffs. The match was played at the Kalyani Stadium on Saturday, April 30.

Although the Malabarians conceded early on, they fought back in the first half itself to restore parity and remain unbeaten in the league.

πŸ’ͺJourdaine Fletcher levels for Gokulam as we end the first half on an equal note against Churchill BrothersπŸ‘ŠπŸ’₯#gkfc #malabarians #ileague https://t.co/EXO3zJzGup

The Calicut-based club were coming into the match on the back of a six-game winning run. Meanwhile, the Goan club were on an undefeated run of their own, having won six games and drawn one in their last seven matches.

Right from the first whistle, Churchill Brothers opted for a gritty low-block approach, trying to keep Gokulam Kerala FC's elite forward line at bay. Although the Malabarians enjoyed all the possession in the world, without their talismanic forward Luka Majcen, they lacked the edge in the final third.

The Goan club were quick to realize the same and expanded their approach and started growing adventurous. In the 15th minute, Churchill won a freekick in the opposition half and Komron Tursonov stood over it. The Tajik international's long-range effort was mindfully parried away by GKFC custodian Rakshit Dagar.

However, the resulting rebound was claimed by the Red Machines and Richard Costa crossed the ball from the right flank into the far post for Kenneth Ngwoke. The Nigerian forward masterfully chested the ball down and unleashed a thumping volley into the bottom right corner.

As Dagar stood between the sticks, helpless, the ball rushed into the net to give Churchill Brothers SC an unexpected lead.

Now with the lead in their bag, the Goan club reverted to their conservative approach and allowed Gokulam Kerala to have the lion's share of possession.

However, that would ultimately lead to their downfall. The Malabarians continued creating half chances, until they ultimately restored parity through Jourdaine Fletcher in the 38th minute.

Mohammed Jassim made a darting run deep into the right flank before drilling in a low cross into the box. Fletcher evaded his markers with a late run and thumped the ball into the left corner to reignite Gokulam's hopes of coming away with three points.

Antonio Rueda's men were woken up after conceding a late goal in the first-half and had a few close attempts going into the break. Tursonov found the ball on the right hand side of the box but his shot from an acute angle thumped into the side netting.


Churchill Brothers SC's defensive resilience rewarded against Gokulam Kerala FC

The second half unraveled as a cagey affair, with both teams opting for a cautious approach. GKFC head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese brought on Sreekuttan VS and Zodingliana in place of Ahmed Waseem Razeek and Jithin.

MOM Sharif Mukhammad πŸ”πŸ¦#gkfc #malabarians #ileague #gkfccbfc https://t.co/KDt0RRLyHo

Churchill Brothers, happy with a point against the table-toppers, tried to break down the play and slow down the game. Gokulam Kerala hooved long balls up the field to split the Goan defense, however, they lacked the physical presence of Majcen up the field.

Substitute Emil Benny stepped in with a crucial contribution for the Malabarian minutes after coming on. He had an opportunity to score from close range, but the shot went wide. The resilience of Churchill's backline was rewarded with a draw as the final whistle went off.

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Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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