Kerala Blasters eked out a narrow yet significant 2-1 win over Bengaluru FC on the opening day of the 10th season of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Kochi on Thursday. An own goal from Keziah Veendorp helped the Blasters get on the scoresheet while skipper Adrian Luna made the most of an uncharacteristic Gurpreet Singh Sandhu error 17 minutes later.
Although Curtis Main pulled one back for Bengaluru FC in the 90th minute, the Blues could not find the inspiration to pump in more goals. Simon Grayson's side were not quite second best all game, but failed to capitalize on the big moments.
It was a game that Bengaluru FC grew into as time passed by. Heckled by the boisterous Manjappada shouting their lungs out from all corners of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, Bengaluru did their best to remain calm and composed under pressure.
Given that it comes naturally to them under the tutelage of manager Simon Grayson, it was still rather refreshing to see. The first half went almost entirely in their favor although some of the supporters of Kerala Blasters will feel that the referee robbed them of a crucial penalty.
Milos Drincic was brought down by former Mariner Slavko Damjanovic in the box just as fellow new signing Daisuke Sakai whipped in a good ball from its edge. Moments later, roars went up across the stadium for a penalty as Daisuke was brought down by Jessel Carneiro millimetres from the box.
However, replays suggested that Daisuke was tripped outside the danger zone and Carneiro was shown a yellow for this offense. The roles were reversed sometime later as Aibhanba Dohling escaped a sure shot yellow owing to a rugby-style tackle.
The referee did seem to have evened things out by applying the balms of impartiality to both teams. The first half ended with Bengaluru having more of the possession although the home team had more shots on goal.
The latter statistic was enough for the loyal Manjappada to brave the torrential rain that did not seem like it was going to stop.
Keziah Veendorp's own goal set Bengaluru FC back
The game changed completely in favor of Kerala Blasters in the second half. The floodgates, so to speak, were opened when Keziah Veendorp, recently signed by the Blues from FC Emmen, managed to put one inside his own net while trying to defend a corner in the 52nd minute.
Blasters' skipper Adrian Luna sealed the deal for the home team when he capitalized on a rather heavy touch made by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu while trying to deal with a back pass by Damjanovic. Luna merely had a touch and saw the ball go into the Bengaluru net as Sandhu groaned in disappointment.
There was very little for Bengaluru to do after that although a lot was expected from new British signing Curtis Main, who came on in the 65th minute. He did, of course, pull one back for the Blues in the dying stages of the game, but the tap-in was not quite enough for the visitors to either share points or pull off a win.
The Blasters, on the other hand, despite being on the receiving end of things in the first half, often challenged the goal thanks to some brilliant runs made by Kwame Peprah. The latter's finishing skills seemed decent although he did not manage to score a goal.
Kerala Blasters will be extremely pleased with this result given the way this fixture was played up by the media owing to the distasteful incident that took place between these two teams in the Super Cup last season.
The Blasters have got the 10th season of the ISL underway by picking up their first points, and will be hoping to continue their merry run of form.