Kerala Blasters FC split honours with Jamshedpur FC on the night playing out a 1-1 draw, but rode on two top-draw defensive displays to pip the League Shield winners 2-1 on aggregate over two legs and qualify for their first final since 2016, in the 2021-22 Hero Indian Super League at the Tilak Maidan Stadium here on Tuesday.
Adrian Luna (18th) opened the scoring for Kerala with a stunning goal before Pronay Halder (50th) pulled one back for the Red Miners who needed one more goal to take the game to extra time, but another solid performance by the Kerala backline ensured they held firm and confirm a place in the summit clash since their defeat to ATK FC six years back.
In the first leg, Sahal Abdul Samad scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Kerala who made it to their third Hero ISL final. They were the finalists in the inaugural 2014 edition as well.
The yellow shirts started the second leg without the injured Sahal but showed no signs of slowing down, almost taking the lead inside the first two minutes had Alvaro Vazquez not tried to be cheeky when one on one with the keeper, dinking the ball over T.P. Rehenesh in Jamshedpur goal and wide of the far post.
Four minutes later, Vazquez got possession deep inside his own half to then set up Ayush Adhikari but Rehenesh was alert to the danger, coming out of his line in time. Kerala found a lot of joy as Jamshedpur full-backs pushed forward leaving a lot of spaces for their rivals to exploit.
Adhikari got another chance from a Jorge Diaz cross but Jamshedpur skipper Peter Hartley put his body on the line to snuff out the danger. Vazquez atoned for his miss earlier in the half soon after, flicking on a delightful pass from the left flank for Luna who darted in, dropped a shoulder and curled a side-footed effort past Rehenesh and into the right corner.
After the cooling break, Daniel Chima Chukwu thought he had pulled Jamshedpur back in the game but his stab from close was ruled offside, albeit belatedly after keeping his flag down initially.
Prabhsukhan Gill was then at fault in Kerala goal as he punched a Greg Stewart free-kick over his head with Jamshedpur players all surrounding him, but eventually, the referee blew the whistle for a foul, much to the keeper’s relief. AT the break, Kerala led 2-0 on aggregate. Five minutes into the restart, Halder nicked one in to get Jamshedpur back in the game, poking in a Stewart corner which was initially met by Chima whose header lacked power and fell to Halder who netted from two yards out.
One minute later, Vazquez could have all but sealed the tie for Kerala but Rehenesh was on hand to save from a chip after the Spaniard was one on one with him. The ball, though, kept rolling goalwards with Eli Sabia but the Brazilian did enough to clear it off the line.
Kerala kept pushing for more as Marko Leskovic, brilliant at the back again, dragged a header wide while Jorge Diaz had Rahul KP free in front of goal but instead lobbed the ball over the keeper trying to score himself. In between the two chances for Kerala, Jitendra Singh’s header was cleared timely off the goalline by Diaz after the ball was rolling goalwards despite Gill getting a hand to it.