Pearson puts Blasters in final with last-gasp winner
Two sending offs. A missed penalty. An own goal. A last-minute leveller. Extra time. And a late winner. At the end of a dramatic semi-final second leg in Chennai, Kerala Blasters FC became the first Hero Indian Super League finalist with a 4-3 aggregate win after losing the second leg 3-1 to Chennaiyin FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Tuesday night.
The game started at a frenetic pace as Chennaiyin set about overturning the 3-0 first-leg deficit, with captain Bernard Mendy being deployed in an advanced role. Kerala were content playing on the counter, trusting their defence to soak up the pressure. There were close shaves at either end, first off a Kerala corner when Michael Chopra’s header was cleared off the line by Harmanjot Khabra, and then Jean Eudes-Maurice’s scuffed effort that was just stopped from entering the goal by Kerala defender Colin Falvey.
Kerala’s counter-attacking strategy was working well, and they nearly stretched their first-leg lead when Chopra and Iain Hume had a neat exchange of passes on a breakaway, but Chennaiyin keeper Shilton Paul was quick off his line to clear the ball. The complexion of the tie soon changed dramatically when Blasters defender Jamie McAllister, who had been booked for time-wasting in the eighth minute, received his marching orders for a second yellow card after a foul on Mendy in the 28th minute.
Chennai stepped up the pressure as they looked to make their man advantage count. Kerala’s defence were finally undone just before half-time. Marco Materazzi’s free kick from the left was met in the box by Mikaël Silvestre, with the Frenchman’s header perfectly placed past Kerala goalkeeper Sandip Nandy.
The home side started the second half on the front foot, and nearly clawed one more goal back when Maurice was knocked down by Kerala defender Sandesh Jhingan in the box. Materazzi had to re-take his penalty kick after his first attempt had beaten Nandy all ends up, as it was ruled out due to Chennai players encroaching into the box. The Italian sent his spot-kick wide the second time around.
Despite the setback, Chennai continued to pour forward, and brought on marquee player and league top-scorer Elano to help get the goals. The Brazilian star instantly brought more thrust to Chennai’s attack, although Kerala continued to look solid in defence. However, they gifted Chennai a second goal. Substitute Bruno Pelissari’s long ball drifted over all of Chennai’s attacking players, and Jhingan chested it back towards his keeper, only to find that Nandy had come off his line to collect the ball himself and the ball went into an untenanted net for an own goal. Nandy, who had been carrying an injury for the previous ten minutes, was substituted immediately after, with Luis Baretto being thrown into a high-pressure situation in his first tournament appearance.
Chennai grabbed the lifeline handed to them with both hands, as they drove forward in search of the goal that would level the aggregate scores. And right in the dying minutes, they got it. Mendy’s quick feet on the left wing took him into the box, and his floated cross was turned in at the far post by Jeje Lalpekhlua.
The first Hero Indian Super League semi-final was thus heading into extra time, and the drama was far from over. Materazzi was soon packed off after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, meaning that both teams were now down to ten men. His sending off seemed to take the sting out of the game, as chances in both the first and second half of extra time were few and far between. However, with penalties looming, Kerala midfielder Stephen Pearson stunned the Chennai crowd with a determined finish. Latching on to Jhingan’s lob, the Scotsman drove towards goal and, despite pressure from three Chennaiyin players, came up with a superb finish to send his side into the final.
David James’ side will now await the winner of the second semi-final between FC Goa and Atletico de Kolkata which will be played on Wednesday.
Hero of the Match: Colin Falvey (Kerala Blasters FC) (Watch here)
Swift Moment of the Match: Stephen Pearson (Kerala Blasters FC) (Watch here)
Amul Fittest Player of the Match: Stephen Pearson
ISL Emerging Player of the Match: Jeje Lalpekhlua (Chennaiyin FC) (Watch here)