NorthEast beat Kerala Blasters 1-0 as Yusa marks his Hero ISL bow with a goal
NorthEast United FC beat Kerala Blasters FC 1-0 at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in front of 27,629 fans to kick-start Hero Indian Super League 2016 on Saturday. Katsumi Yusa proved to be the difference between the two sides after the Japanese midfielder scored in the 55th minute to add the cherry on top of what was a brilliant performance from the home team.
After a slow start to the game, NorthEast United FC began taking control of the match near the 10-minute mark as they started to see more of the ball. The Highlanders dominated possession but failed to threaten Graham Stack in Kerala Blasters’ goal during the opening exchanges.
Stack’s first save came in the 24th minute when the Highlanders capitalised on a lapse-pass by the veteran keeper, which Romaric drilled straight at goal to register both NorthEast’s and the game’s first shot on target.
The visitors’ first chance of notice came in the 35th minute when a well-worked free-kick by the Blasters almost caught out NorthEast’s defence. Romaric, however, was aware of the danger and made a crucial interception on the edge of the six-yard box to keep the score at 0-0.
NorthEast also came close to opening the scoring three minutes before half-time after a Romaric ball from the left was headed back across goal invitingly for someone to add the finishing touch. Stack though managed to thwart the threat by punching the ball out of the danger area and keeping it scoreless going in at the break.
It took just 10 minutes for the home side to take the lead in the second period after a brilliant low cross by Nicolas Velez from the left found Yusa in acres of space at the far post for an easy tap-in to mark his Hero ISL debut in style.
Kerala Blasters upped their game after the restart and almost equalised near the hour mark when a Sandesh Jhingan cross from the right struck the frame of the goal. They had another chance soon after when Subrata Paul’s failed attempt at collecting a cross left Kervens Belfort with an open goal to score. The Haitian, however, shot wide of the target to the relief of the Highlanders.
The home side almost doubled their advantage in the 72nd minute when a beautiful ball from deep inside their own half found Emiliano Alfaro through on goal. Alfaro unleashed a powerful shot that looked destined for goal but Stack was up to the task for Kerala and parried the ball behind for a corner.
The last 10 minutes of the game saw the Blasters throw everything but the kitchen sink at NorthEast. Mohammed Rafi almost headed in the equaliser nine minutes from full-time but Paul managed to apply enough pressure on Rafi to stop him from getting a clear connection on the ball.
Second-half substitute Michael Chopra almost made it 1-1 as he tried to weave his magic and run the ball into the back of the net. Mailson Alves though was perfectly positioned to make a crunching tackle that secured a 1-0 win for the hosts in the season opener.
Club Award – NorthEast United FC SWIFT
Amul Fittest Player of the Match - Cedric Hengbart
DHL Winning Pass of the Match – Nico Velez
Maruti Suzuki Swift Moment of the Match – Graham Stack
ISL Emerging Player of the Match – Holicharan Narzary
Hero of the Match – Katsumi Yusa