A 10-man FC Goa displayed grit and gumption to come from behind to rescue an important point against Kerala Blasters at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday night. Sergio Cidoncha opened the scoring in the third minute with a superb left-footed shot but Mourtada Fall powered home from close range on the cusp of half-time to bring parity to the scoreline heading into half-time.
The Senegalese centre-back’s night, however, wouldn’t end on a good note as he was then sent off for a last-man foul on Bartholomew Ogbeche early in the second half. Kerala Blasters took made the most of their numerical superiority a few minutes later as Cameroonian Raphael Messi Bouli put the home team ahead only minutes later. The Gaurs, however, showed incredible grit and came back to clinch a point deep into stoppage time with a goal from Lenny Rodrigues.
It was a disastrous start for the Gaurs as the home side took the lead within three minutes. A long throw into the box was cleared straight to Sergio Cidoncha on the edge of the box and the Spaniard instinctively released a left-footed effort that snuck in despite Mohammad Nawaz getting a hand to it. With a number of changes to their usual eleven, the Gaurs were unable to find any sort of rhythm with the men in yellow pressing in numbers and bombing forward time and again.
FC Goa seemed to get more involved, though, as the half progressed. Brandon Fernandes almost found Mandar Rao Dessai with a superb through ball that split the Kerala Blasters defence in the 18th minute, but the pass was slightly heavy as the keeper pounced on it thanks to his timely reaction.
Most of FC Goa’s attacking play was going through Brandon, as the diminutive Goan attempted to play look for dissecting balls to bring in Manvir Singh and Jackichand Singh into play. The home side should have doubled their advantage in the 38th minute when Bartholomew Ogbeche crossed low for Messi Bouli, but Goan youngster Saviour Gama did well to put the attacker under pressure as he tapped his shot wide.
Defender Vlatko Drobarov was shown the first yellow of the game moments later for a cynical tackle on Manvir Singh. The men in yellow were made to pay dearly for the error as Edu Bedia curled in a wicked free-kick aimed at the far post which deflected off the woodwork towards the left wing.
Jackichand gave chase and crossed well for Fall to power a header home at the far post to restore parity. The home side almost took the lead soon after with a rasping shot from Ogbeche which Nawaz just tipped away as before the referee brought the first forty-five minutes to an end.
The beginning of the second half was a disastrous one for FC Goa as they found themselves a man down by the 52nd minute. A ball over the top for Blasters skipper Bartholomew Ogbeche saw him tussle with Fall. A mistimed swipe at the ball saw the man from Senegal inadvertently take the striker down and was promptly sent off.
Minutes later, the home side re-took the lead after Prasanth put in a low cross towards Messi who side-footed it past Nawaz. With the advantage of a man, Kerala Blasters continued to attack the FC Goa goal and Ogbeche was guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance from a few yards out after he found himself unmarked in the box.
The home side for much of the encounter, later on, was content to sit back, defend deep and attack the Gaurs on the counter. Messi Bouli had the ball in the net late on from another Kerala Blasters counter but was flagged offside.
With time ticking down, it looked like Kerala Blasters had the points in the bag, but FC Goa’s never-say-die attitude came to the fore again as Lenny netted a late equalizer after Manvir’s cut back and shot was parried back into the box for the Goan to tap into an empty net to rescue a point.