Kochi: Kerala Blasters FC extended their unbeaten streak to seven games, ascending to third place after a late goal from Sandeep Singh closed a 1-0 win for them against Odisha FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Monday.
It was a game of two halves for the Blasters, who didn't find their rhythm in the first half but bounced back in the second half, with Sandeep Singh scoring the winning goal in the 86th minute.
The hosts made one change that saw left-back Jessel Carneiro replace Nishu Kumar in the starting XI. The visitors made a couple of changes as Nandhakumar Sekar returned to the left flank after serving his suspension, while Victor Rodriguez came in to make his first start of the season - Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Diego Mauricio dropped to the bench.
KBFC nearly conceded in the third minute when Ivan Kaliuzhnyi's headed clearance from inside the box went straight to Raynier Fernandes on the edge of the box. The midfielder let one fly and saw it come off the crossbar before a tightly-marked Adrian Luna fired the rebound high.
The first half ended without goals, but it was a feisty period. Five yellow cards were brandished before the break, with the Blasters picking up four of them. At half-time, Odisha FC had eight attempts, out of which three were on target, while the hosts only managed one wayward shot from Carneiro.
The Odisha FC defence had to face a barrage of attacks from the Blasters as the game entered its final quarter. In the 71st minute, a pass from Carlos Delgado allowed Sahal Abdul Samad to break forward. The winger lobbed the ball into the path of Nihal Sudeesh, but it was inches away from the substitute who had just come on.
Seven minutes from time, Carneiro unleashed a fierce strike at the near post after a short free kick. The ball hit the upright and flashed across the face of goal before coming to Marko Leskovic. The defender decided to cross rather than shoot at the empty goal and ended up giving possession away to the Juggernauts.
Four minutes from time, the constant pressure from Kerala Blasters paid off as they got their noses in front. Substitute Bryce Miranda curled a cross into the box from the left flank. Amrinder Singh came out to punch it but missed the ball as it bounced and fell to Sandeep who headed it into an empty net.
The crucial win against a top-six rival takes Kerala Blasters two points clear of ATK Mohun Bagan. The Blasters will host Jamshedpur FC next on January 3, Tuesday. Odisha FC remain in sixth place, level on points with FC Goa. They host Mumbai City FC next on January 2 (ANI)