FC Goa regained the top spot in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 points table by subjecting Kerala Blasters FC to a 1-0 defeat at the Fatorda Stadium tonight.

How often have we seen an unlikely player coming up with the deliverables in crunch encounters? This clash was as critical as they come for the prospects of both these teams. An opportunity to build distance from each other in the standings, both the sides stepped in with some serious intent to edge past the other.

The Gaurs have unearthed a gem in the creative acumen of Victor Rodriguez, with the Spaniard unleashing his accurate passes, set-piece deliveries, and crosses that have frequently resulted in goal-scoring opportunities. But before getting to that, Kwame Peprah, 22, missed a sitter in the eighth minute when he got past Sandesh Jhingan and had a wonderful chance to get Kerala Blasters ahead in the game.

The Ghanaian ended up shooting off target from the right-hand side of the box, much to the dismay of the visitors. It was an open opportunity to take the lead in this tightly-fought encounter, and at some point, it must have dawned upon Ivan Vukomanovic that they would have to pay for it.

That moment came during the added time of the first half, with FC Goa earning a free-kick on the right flank. Quite expectedly, Rodriguez took the set-piece and his delivery met an unmarked Rowllin Borges inside the 18-yard box. Borges, who had netted only nine times in 109 ISL appearances across eight seasons before this, carefully placed the ball into the back of the net as the home team secured the all-important lead before heading into the half-time break.

Unfortunately, the midfielder picked up a knock whilst striking the ball and had to be substituted for the incoming Udanta Singh straightaway.

Borges is the quintessential defensive midfielder, shielding the backline, breaking attacks, and bringing his expertise into use during duels. However, Manolo Marquez has perhaps found a more evolved role for the former Mumbai City FC star, with Borges having scored twice already in seven appearances in this campaign. Even tonight, he was positioned in an enticing goal-scoring spot and that helped the team tap upon his offensive instincts as the local lad acknowledged that loud response from the FC Goa faithful.

For the Kerala Blasters, this game came around at an important time. They were riding high on success lately, with their attacking department clicking cohesively in their home games. At Goa, they held the majority of the possession (51.2%) and took nine shots across the 90-odd minutes. However, the finishing touch that they pride upon was missing tonight. The eagerness to get something out of the game was quite apparent, with the likes of Rahul KP and Adrian Luna covering every blade of grass to pull off something magical. Alas, it was not to be the night for that though!

Key Performer of the Match

Sandesh Jhingan (FC Goa)

The central defender delivered a worthy performance against the club that propelled him to fame in professional football. He was a rock at the back for FC Goa, recording seven clearances, completing 22 out of his 30 passes, and often being an aerial threat that kept the Kerala Blasters FC backline on their toes during set-pieces.

What’s next for both teams?

FC Goa will face Mumbai City FC in their next match at the Fatorda Stadium on December 12, whereas Kerala Blasters FC will travel to take on Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on December 14.

Brief Scores

FC Goa 1 (Rowllin Borges 45+1’) – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

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