Gokulam Kerala FC, winless in 12 games and over three and a half months, carved out an odd goal in the victory over Manipuri side Neroca FC at the EMS Corporation stadium in Kozhikode on Sunday.
Second half goals from Ghanaian Daniel Addo and Trinidadian Marcus Joseph secured three points for the home side after Nigerian Felix Chidi had scored his seventh of the 12th Hero I-League, to give Neroca a lead in the first half.
The win takes the Gokulam side to the ninth place on the points table. They are just above Minerva Punjab FC, thanks to a better head-to-head record.
More importantly, this steers them clear of the relegation zone, as bottom-placed Shillong Lajong can now only equal the Kozhikode-based side if they win their last two games. However, Gokulam have a better head-to-head record with Lajong, and thus cannot mathematically finish in the drop zone.
Neroca coach Manuel Fraile made as many as four changes to his starting XI before the game, while his Gokulam counterpart Gift Raikhan made two from their previous defeat against Aizawl.
The game began at a slow pace. Daniel Addo had a toe-poke in the 11th minute and then there was an effort by Chidi for Neroca at the quarter of an hour mark which ballooned over.
Then Eduardo could not connect for Neroca effectively with his header, off a free-kick in the 17th minute. Gokulam’s Nigerian forward Emmanuel was then put through by Arjun Jayaraj, but Naocha Singh in the Neroca defence made a timely interception to thwart him.
Neroca were using the right wing very effectively and the goal eventually came from there when Malem latched on to a ball on the channel and made a run towards the box. Looking up, he spotted a run from Japanese winger Katsumi Yusa inside the box and delivered a perfect cross.
The Japanese failed to connect but Felix Chidi stabbed home for an easy finish. It was the Nigerian’s seventh goal of the campaign.
From that point on, Gokulam were stirred into action with Marcus Joseph being the catalyst.
He first attempted a snapshot on target in the 28th minute but it brought about a good save from Lalit Thapa in the Neroca goal.
Another one from Marcus two minutes later was even better and more powerful, bringing about an even better reaction save from Thapa. He then lined up a third shot in the 33rd, a powerful strike this time from outside the box, but Thapa was up to it again.
The Trinidadian pro-league top scorer then got at the end of a decent cross from the right from Irshad, but his free-header from inside the box lacked direction. In the 38th minute, Deepak put in a good cross on the overlap for Emmanuel to just connect and get the direction right, but he faltered on the latter part from close to goal.
Gokulam did get the equaliser, not in the first half, but as soon as the second begun. Marcus passed seemingly harmlessly to Daniel Addo in the centre of midfield well inside the Neroca half. The former U-20 FIFA World Cup winning Ghanaian, trapped, took a touch forward and then looking up to spot the opportunity, unleashed a well-placed powerful right-footed strike to beat Thapa all ends up.
Bhutanese winger Chencho had a chance to get Neroca back ahead a few minutes later after Malem had set him up inside the box but Arnab Das Sharma in the Gokulam goal came up with a save this time.
A minute later, Emmanuel rounded keeper Thapa but missed the target from inside the box wide on the left. He failed to connect again a minute later after an Arjun Jayaraj cross found him. Thapa was equal to it again.
Gokulam were not to be denied their first win in an incredible 13 games and in close to four months though, as in the 82nd minute, Daneil Addo with the assist this time, found Marcus with a lovely ball from his own half.
The Trinidadian broke away, and with the ball on his favourite left-foot in a one-on-one with Thapa, placed it in the Neroca net over the keeper’s left shoulder. Yet another clinical finish and his sixth goal in his eighth Hero I-League game.