Kozhikode: In front of a packed audience of 31,184 home fans, Gokulam Kerala FC got their I-League 2019-20 season underway on a positive note by pulling off a 2-1 victory over Manipur's NEROCA FC at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode on Saturday.
Goals from Henry Kisekka in the 43rd minute and Marcus Joseph in the 49th minute took the home side to victory but Taryk Sampson pulled one back for the visitors late in the game.
Both returning coaches fielded a line-up signalling attacking intent. The attacking duo of Joseph and Kisekka featured in the starting XI to nobody's surprise. Trinidadian Andre Etienne started in defence with Nathaniel Garcia in the heart of midfield.
NEROCA FC opted for a less-cautious approach, with coach Gift Raikhan fielding a 3-5-2 formation. New signing and club skipper, Trinidadian veteran Marvin Devon Phillip started in goal with his young compatriot Taryk Sampson starting in defence while Malian forward Boubacar Diarra was the focal point of Neroca offence.
It was the home side that dictated the tempo of the game right from the kick-off. With incessant pressing and stitched passes, Gokulam were looking to make the most of their brilliant attacking arsenal.
They had a golden chance to take the lead in the 16th minute when a cross from the left flank found Kisekka, who had a free header to capitalise on, but his effort was off the mark. The Ugandan, along with Joseph, remained a constant threat throughout the game.
In the 35th minute, Joseph stepped up for a free-kick and attempted to shoot under the wall, but it ricocheted off the defence and fell at his feet again. He attempted to volley this time around but his effort missed the mark by a whisker, sailing over the crossbar.
The EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode saw a packed crowd of 31,184. (Photo Credit: AIFF)
The deadlock was broken in the 43rd minute, when Kisekka's left-footed effort from close range found the back of the net and put the home team in lead right before half time.
The second half began the way the first half had ended. In the 49th minute, a cross from the right flank found Joseph inside the box and he made no mistake in scoring the open header to double the home side's advantage.
Against the run of play, NEROCA finally pulled one back in the 88th minute. An acrobatic bicycle kick from Sampson off a set-piece gave the visitors a lifeline but it turned out to be nothing more than a consolation.
The Malabarians earned all three points to get their season underway on a positive note, following up their Durand Cup-winning pre-season form.