While a moment of calm from Sunil Chhetri put Blues in the driving seat, a late double from top-scorer Miku settled the dust on a much-frenzied fixture as Bengaluru FC beat Kerala Blasters 3-1 to leave Kochi with three points, a move up to third on the table and hand the Blues faithful bragging rights at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on Sunday.
While Chhetri stepped up in the 60th minute to slot a penalty past Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in a game that belonged to Bengaluru all night, Miku (90+3’, 90+5’) struck twice in the injury time before Courage Pekuson (90+6’) scored a consolation goal for Kerala Blasters.
Returning to action after a ten-day break, the Blues’ back four was led by Juanan Gonzalez, in the absence of John Johnson, while Udanta passed a late fitness test on his ankle to start on the Bengaluru right. Kerala meanwhile had big names missing in former Blues CK Vineeth and Rino Anto – both of who sat out with injuries. Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov who was eyeing a return from injury for this fixture, failed to make the squad.
While the game began with frenetic pace, Bengaluru could have shot into an early lead but Miku’s header in the 4th minute from an Edu Garcia free kick was directed straight at Roy Chowdhury who wasn’t leaving the ball for any Bengaluru seconds.
Nonetheless, in a first half that belonged squarely to Bengaluru, Edu Garcia, Sunil Chhetri and Erik Paartalu all came close to scoring on multiple occasions, but every attempt was frustratingly hit straight at Roy Chowdhury. The two times Bengaluru did find the back of the net, the assistant referee raised his flag for an off-side decision once, and then for Dimas Delgado’s corner swinging out of play before Subhasish Bose nodded it in.
Bengaluru’s struggle with precision in front of goal carried on to the start of the second half when Chhetri, with only Roy Chowdhury to beat from a Harmanjot Khabra cross, nodded in front of the ’keeper who collected it on the bounce.
But the Blues’ persistence finally came good when they were awarded a penalty on the hour mark when Chhetri’s cross caught Sandesh Jhingan’s hand in the box, prompting referee Venkatesh R to point to the spot. Chhetri, as calm as ever, stepped up and fired low beyond Roy Chowdhury to sink the home support into silence.
Bengaluru kept complete control of the game for the next half hour, keeping all Kerala attackers at bay. With the fixture looking set for a 1-0 finish, it suddenly burst into life in injury time after Miku netted a quick-fire double to silence the majority of the 37,986 crowd and send the travelling Blues into raptures.
The Venezuelan first made it 2-0 in the 93rd minute when he held off Lalruatthara’s challenge to finish off Edu Garcia’s long ball on a counter attack. Two minutes later, he tapped home from inside the box after Subhasish dribbled past Jhingan on the left and squared it for the Venezuelan.
Leading 3-0, a slight defensive lapse allowed the hosts to pull one back as Courage Pekuson scored from close range in the last minute of play, but it was only to be a consolation.
The Blues begin 2018 by hosting defending champions ATK at the Fortress on January 7.