Real Kashmir FC (RKFC) walked away with a 1-0 win over Gokulam Kerala FC (GKFC) from the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode on Saturday.
Mason Robertson scored what turned out to be the match-winner in the 49th minute.
Gokulam Head Coach Santiago Varela made just a solitary change to his previous line-up, bringing in Malemnganba Meitei in place of Muthu Irulandi, thus rendering the remainder of his 3-5-2 unchanged.
Real Kashmir Head Coach David Robertson also made just one change, naming new winter acquisition Robin Singh upfront and Chesterpaul Lyngdoh making way for him.
With the Gokulam Kerala Women’s Team reaching the Hero Indian Women’s League (IWL) semi-finals in style earlier this week, the onus was on the men to reflect a similar run of form.
The first half was mostly played out in midfield, with either side failing to create any real chances. Gokulam went route one with long balls and crosses but keeper Phurba Lachenpa’s alert presence thwarted danger on every occasion.
Marcus Joseph tried his luck from distance on multiple occasions, coming close at the 19th and 44th-minute marks but was denied by a fine couple of saves from Lachenpa.
The second half might have headed down that route had Kashmir not turned the tables. In the 49th minute, a fine cross from Loveday Okechukwu found Mason Robertson, who shrugged off his marker Andre Etienne and made the perfect connection with his head, finding the back of the net with a bullet header.
Kashmir at this point led by a goal with their only shot on target and 31% possession. The goal, however, prompted an immediate response from the hosts and the game burst to life.
In the 52nd minute, a speculative cross from Naocha Singh bounced off the top of the crossbar, with Lachenpa getting fingertips on the dipped delivery. The resultant corner saw Lalromawia’s thunderbolt of a shot rattle the woodwork.
The Malabarians settled for another corner, which they made good use of and found Henry Kisekka, who found the target but Lachenpa was in no mood to let anything past him. The ricochet fell to Haroon Amiri, who went for technique over power but his curler went agonisingly over the crossbar.
David Robertson’s plan was working to perfection and his side tried going for the insurance goal on the counter. Bazie Armand’s cross-field delivery almost put Mason Robertson through on goal and the Scotsman would have had acres to run had it not been for Ubaid CK’s ‘sweeper-keeper’ intervention, as he came running towards the halfway line.
Gokulam tried to level the score until the final whistle, with Joseph being denied time and again by Lachenpa who played out of his skin – deservingly winning the Hero of the Match as Real Kashmir completed the heist and made it three wins in a row.
The Srinagar outfit rise to third on the table with 15 points and have now thrown their hat into the title race, while Gokulam drop to fifth place.