FULL-TIME: Bengaluru FC 2-2 Kerala Blasters FC
Bengaluru FC: 69′ Udanta Singh (Assist: Sunil Chhetri); 85′ Suni Chhetri (Assist: Udanta Singh).
Kerala Blasters FC: 16′ Stojanovic (Penalty); 40′ C. Pekuson (Assist: Len Doungel).
Kerala Blasters drew first blood, but Bengaluru FC fought hard to salvage a draw in an ill-tempered encounter at the Kanteerava.
Kerala started the game better than the home side and used the width on the flanks well while the fullbacks Nishu Kumar and Kean Lewis looked uncomfortable. A cross from Rakip from the right wing struck the arm of Kean Lewis as he was trying to clear the ball. The resulting penalty converted by Stojanovic gave Kerala the lead in the 16th minute.
A bit out of sorts after conceding, the Blues tried to play through midfield, but found little space to manoeuvre the ball. When they tried passing the ball into wide areas, Kerala put enough pressure and curbed all creativity.
The second goal came for Kerala from a defence-splitting pass which found Len Doungel on the right flank. As Len dribbled, it looked like the chance got away, but he managed to find Pekuson a few yards outside the box. The Ghanaian midfielder scored with a fantastic strike in the far corner and the Blasters went into the break 2-0 up. Kerala could’ve had a third, but Poplatnik muffed up from eight yards out.
Trailing by two goals, Bengaluru introduced Rahul Bheke and Xisco early in the second half for Kean Lewis and the 19-year-old Mizo forward Edmund Lalrindika. Kean Lewis had a terrible outing today and was poor at right back. He was shifted to midfield with Khabra in the full back role, but Lewis looked overwhelmed in midfield as well.
Bengaluru dominated the game in the second half. Looking at the Running Sum graph of the two teams, the Blues’ search for a goal gained momentum in the second half – they barely moved the needle in the first.
Some excellent long-ball distribution from the Aussie midfielder Erik Paartalu and Udanta Singh’s crossing into Sunil Chhetri saw them get close early on in the second half as a goal looked ominous.
Eventually, it was the combination of the three which got them the first goal. Erik Paartalu launched a ball into Chhetri in the box. The captain headed the ball across the goal and found Udanta Singh who headed the ball in.
Kerala did have a chance to restore the two goal lead after a fantastic ball across the goal by Sahal Abdul Samad found Stojanovic (most attempts on goal for Kerala) who hit the post.
Having cut the deficit, Bengaluru spurred on ahead. Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Xisco Hernandez were among the top creators and shooters tonight. A second goal to level the scores came in the 85th minute and it was Sunil Chhetri who got on the end of Udanta Singh’s cross from the right flank with a well-placed header to break his goal drought. The Kerala fullback Rakip could not deal with Sunil Chhetri tonight and was culpable for the goal.
Kerala are still to win a game since their opening day win against ATK and while they did show promise tonight, it was a familiar scenario with them taking the lead, but wilting under pressure. While Bengaluru did not manage to clinch automatic qualification tonight, they do have a chance against the league’s whipping boys and defending champions Chennaiyin FC on Saturday.