GOKULAM KERALA FC staged a spectacular comeback to earn their first victory in the I-League 2020-21 today.
Facing RoundGlass Punjab FC, GKFC went 3-1 down in the first half. But halfway into the second half they managed to notch up three back to back goals within a six minute period to get themselves a 4-3 win.
After starting their campaign with a hard-fought 1-2 loss to Chennai City, GKFC head coach Vincenzo Annese continued to implement his efforts to get the team used to a more passing-heavy and spatially aware style of play. Many GKFC players who were new to this system were making mistakes early on. This allowed RoundGlass Punjab FC, who had a robust attack led by Bhutanese international Chencho Gyeltshen, to pounce early on.
Within the first 25 minutes, Chencho had scored twice. Although Phillip Adjah got a goal back to keep Gokulam Kerala FC in the game, they weren't able to keep the deficit to one going into the break, as Rupert Nongrum restored Punjab's cushion.
As the second half began, Annense brought on Shibil Muhammed replacing Zodingliana Ralte. GKFC tried hard to get an early goal to get themselves back in the game but the luck didn't seem to be going there way.
Not long after the match resumed, Dennis Antwi was brought down in Punjab box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Antwi himself took the spot kick, but Punjab keeper Kiran Limbu managed to save it.
The Malabarians, however, saw this as a sign of their improved dominance over the game and redoubled their efforts. And just before the 70 minute mark Antwi made up for the missed penalty by scoring from a brilliant header off Deepak Devrani's free kick.
Within minutes, Antwi struck again, this time with a brilliantly executed shot towards the corner of the post that left the keeper with no chance.
Suddenly, the match was tied 3-3 and RoundGlass Punjab were under tremendous pressure trying to fend off a resurgent Gokulam Kerala. And it was the pressure of the moment that got to the Punjab defence. Anwar Ali, who had come on as a second half substitute, ended up conceding an own goal that put Gokulam Kerala FC 4-3.
This hard-earned victory is the first sign that Annense's risky gamble of implementing a new style of play with limited time to preparare might pay off. And the resilience showed by GKFC under pressure is also something the former Belize coach will take as a plus as the club re-builds its title challenge.
And although RoundGlass Punjab had their defensive flaws exposed in the second half, they still have some positives to take away from this match; especially the early success they got with Chencho up front.
Both clubs are on 3 points after 2 matches now, and the fierce contest they played out has set high expectations for both sides' performance going forward in the season.