Kochi: CK Vineeth was on target as Kerala Blasters defeated NorthEast United FC 1-0 to register their maiden win in the ongoing Indian Super League season in the presence of their co-owner and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
CK Vineeth, who returned from suspension headed home the Blasters’ first proper attacking move as they maintained their record of never losing to NorthEast United in four years.
It was NorthEast though who started stronger and with some good fortune could have even taken the lead. Striker Marcinho was a constant threat for the visitors and struck a good understanding with Martin Diaz.
The tables were turned against the run of play on the 24th minute when a gem of a strike from the India international Vineeth put them into the lead. Captain Sandesh Jhingan released Rino Anto on the right with a long ball and Anto, with plenty of space ahead of him, made a superb run forward. He then played an inch-perfect cross inside the NorthEast penalty box where Vineeth's diving header beat TP Rehnesh all ends up.
That left the visitors deflated and what added to the misery was a red card for their keeper, Rehnesh, on the stroke of half-time. From a quick counter-attack, the inspirational Courage Pekuson picked out Mark Sifneos with a through ball and goalkeeper Rehenesh mistimed his jump, catching Sifneos’s legs, instead of the ball.
Once the referee gave Rehenesh his marching orders, they were left with a mountain to climb.
With the numerical advantage, Kerala always enjoyed the upper hand all through the rest of the game. Close to the hour mark, the hosts almost doubled their lead when Lalruatthara shot from close range but the upright saved the visitors and substitute goal keeper Ravi Kumar more embarrassment.
NorthEast relied mostly on counter attacks and they came close to securing an unlikely equaliser with just three minutes left to be played. A corner-kick from substitute Odair Fortes saw Danilo Lopes rise high to head, but the ball sailed agonisingly wide with nobody on hand to tap it home at the far post.
In the end, NorthEast United couldn't muster an equalizer before the final whistle and the two big moments in the first half - the goal and the red card - helped the hosts clinch the three points.
Former Manchester United defender Wes Brown who made his debut in the competition was declared man of the match.