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I-League 2022-23: Gokulam Kerala edge Churchill Brothers in high-intensity contest

Vasco da Gama (Goa), Feb 20 (IANS) Defending champions Gokulam Kerala moved back to third position on the I-League points table with a hard-fought 1-0 win against Churchill Brothers at the Tilak Maidan here on Sunday.

The Malabarians rode on Farshad Noor’s first-half goal before displaying some resilient defending after the break to pick up their second consecutive win on the road.

With this win, Gokulam Kerala are now on 30 points from 18 games, ten behind leader Sreenidi Deccan. Churchill Brothers remain fifth with 26 points.

The game began at an even pace and it was the Churchill Brothers who had the edge in terms of ball possession. However, the visitors looked sharper going forward. In the ninth minute, a weak clearance by the Churchill defence fell for Sergio Mendigutxia on the edge of the penalty area. The Spanish striker struck the ball sweetly but was denied by Albino Gomes, the I-League said in a release on Sunday.

However, the Churchill custodian was beaten 12 minutes later. A mispass by Kingslee Fernandes allowed Gokulam to win possession in the attacking third. P.N. Noufal fed the ball to Farshad Noor, who had made a run into the 18-yard area. The Afghan pulled the trigger just in time to avoid Ponif Vaz’s sliding challenge and nestled the ball into the back of the net.

Soon after, Martin Chaves had a chance to pull the hosts’ level. Sharif Mukhammad sent a low cross for the Uruguayan into the six-yard area, but Gokulam captain Aminou Bouba was present to make a vital last-minute interception to keep the ball away from Chaves.

Chaves then tried to be the provider in the first-half add-on time, picking out Abdoulaye Sane inside the box. The Senegalese turned goalside and took the shot but was denied by the Gokulam goalkeeper Shibinraj Kunniyil. Substitute Alocious was present to pounce on the rebound, but he too was denied by a spectacular sliding challenge from Mohammed Jasim.

Alocious had another chance early in the second half but his strike following a free-kick taken by Chaves lacked power and was comfortably collected by Kunniyil.

Gokulam Kerala gave away a series of cheap fouls just outside the penalty area, but Churchill Brothers were unable to take advantage. Mukhammad hit the crossbar before Momo Cisse and Chaves skied their efforts.

At the other end, the Malabarians almost doubled their lead on the counter. Sreekuttan VS received the ball on the left wing and made a run into the hosts’ penalty area before cutting back for Noor, but the Afghan was denied a brace by a reflex save from the Churchill goalkeeper Gomes.

As the hosts pressed high up the pitch, the Gokulam backline defended desperately. It turned into an end-to-end contest towards the end of regulation time.

In the 87th minute, substitute Eldar Moldozhunusov received the ball on the left wing and took a stinging shot at goal, but it was saved by Gomes at the expense of a corner. From the corner, Gomes then saved a header from Bouba before Churchill launched a counterattack. Sane made his way inside the box but tried to dribble his way out of too many green shirts and lost the ball in the process.