AFTER FACING A setback in the previous game, Gokulam Kerala FC re-asserted themselves as a contender in I-League 2020-21 by routing NEROCA FC by a 4-1 margin.
However, the fact that the team is yet to find their best chemistry became apparent when an unseemly intra-squad incident held up the match late in the game when they were awarded a penalty.
GKFC began the match on an aggressive posture, making their intentions known early on when Emil Benny beat the keeper but his shot hit the woodwork. Not long after they got the first goal of the match, with Mohammad Rashid's ball being mistakenly put into the net by NEROCA's Yumkhaibam Jiteshwor Singh.
Just around the half hour mark, the Malabarians struck again. Mohammad Rashid once again provided the key pass to Dennis Antwi, who found Phillip Adjah in the right spot for the conversion. In an ironic twist, these two same attackers who combined to put GKFC 2-0 ahead would get caught in a spat towards the end of the match.
Before half-time, GKFC were 3-0 up thanks to Jestin George finding the net off Deepak Devrani's slick free-kick. For most of the second half the game continued in a robust back and forth where NEROCA tried hard to get back into the game but were held back by the GKFC defence.
In the last few minutes of regulation time, Antwi got fouled inside NEROCA's box and a penalty was awarded to Gokulam Kerala FC. As Antwi stepped up to take the shot, Adjah went to him and seemingly pleaded with him to let him take the spot kick instead. Meanwhile, Sharif Mukhammad also wanted to take it, but the other two didn't want him to. The verbal exchange resulting from this lack of team coordination held up the match for a while before the penalty kick was finally taken. It was Sharif who took it and he duly found the net.
NEROCA got a consolation goal to make it 4-1, when second half substitute Songpu Singsit scored for the Imphal-based club about 88 minutes in.
The win and the valuable 3 points that came from it put Gokulam Kerala FC at 6 points from 4 matches. They're 4th on the table but at par on points with second & third placed TRAU FC & Mohammedan Sporting. It's a welcome result after their 2-0 loss to Aizawl FC, but the penalty incident showed that coach Annese still has some work to do to get some of the key figures in his dressing room on the same wavelength.
NEROCA, meanwhile, have suffered a major setback after their 4-0 win over Indian Arrows. This is their first defeat of the campaign, and with 4 points from 3 matches, they still have a chance to break into the top two if they win the game they have in hand. But Gift Raikhan, who was at the helm when NEROCA won the 2nd Division to earn a promotion to the I-League, has a tough task in his hand to bring in another era of revival at the club where they can compete for the coveted I-League title.
Both club will be back in action on Saturday with NEROCA facing Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala FC taking on Real Kashmir FC.