Panaji: FC Goa got some respite in the playoff race after clinching crucial three points against Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Sunday.
Goals from Iker Guarrotxena, Noah Sadaoui and Redeem Tlang helped the Gaurs end their four-game winless run in the ISL as they leapfrogged Odisha FC to fifth and went four points clear of Bengaluru FC in seventh.
Meanwhile, the Blasters suffered back-to-back defeats in the ISL for the first time since October.
Devendra Murgaonkar made his first start of the season, replacing Tlang in the XI. For the visitors, Harmanjot Khabra and Jessel Carneiro dropped to the bench with Nishu Kumar and Sandeep Singh replacing the two full-backs. Saurav Mandal replaced the suspended Rahul KP on the right flank.
In the opening half-hour, Kerala Blasters were unable to test the keeper while their own shot-stopper Prabhsukhan Gill was forced into making a solitary save. Moments after the half-hour mark, Brandon Fernandes won a penalty after contact with Saurav Mandal in the box.
Guarrotxena went straight down the middle to score from the spot kick, for his seventh goal of the season. The goal put the hosts in front and was also the 150th ISL goal scored by FC Goa at the Fatorda Stadium.
Ten minutes from the break, Gill came sprinting out of his penalty area to get to the ball first, but Sadaoui flicked it past him before seeing his shot blocked by Ruivah Hormipam. The Moroccan did get his goal just three minutes later when he pounced on a poor Sandeep Singh pass, beat Hormipam, and opened up his body to slot it past Gill to double the hosts' advantage.
Having gone multiple goals down in the first half for the second consecutive game, Kerala Blasters came out with purpose, and Dimitrios Diamantakos was the man to get on the sheet in the 51st minute. Adrian Luna was the creator, whipping in a free kick from the left flank that saw the Greek striker nod the ball in from close range.
But FC Goa created the decisive touch to deflate the Blasters in the 69th minute. On the counter, Brandon held the ball as Sadaoui made a dummy run to draw the defenders away, opening up space for Tlang on the right flank. The substitute paced into the box and drove it past Gill to breach his far post.
Ten minutes later, a crucial goal-line clearance from Sanson Pereira denied Nihal Sudeesh his first goal for the club and kept the two-goal advantage intact. Eight minutes were added on at the end of regulation time during which the Blasters probed forward but failed to create anything substantial as they suffered a second successive defeat.
Following a few weeks of see-sawing between Odisha FC and FC Goa, the Gaurs finally managed to get back in fifth place. They will hope to extend this advantage when they host East Bengal FC on January 26.
Kerala Blasters remain in third place, ten points behind Hyderabad FC and just one ahead of ATK Mohun Bagan in fourth. They will host NorthEast United FC next on January 29.