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2016 Indian Super League, 2016 Indian Super League
  • Didier Kadio (66')
  • C.K. Vineeth (85', 89')
  • Bernard Mendy (22')

Vineeth's brace boosts Kerala's play-off hopes

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Kerala Blasters 3-1 Chennaiyin (2:17)

A late brace by Vineeth helped Kerala Blasters beat Chennaiyin in front of a packed crowd in Kerala. (2:17)

In front of a packed and frenzied crowd at the Jawharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, Kerala Blasters won the bragging rights in the second Southern derby of the season.

Inspired by two substitutions either side of half-time, Kerala rode on a brace from CK Vineeth to come from behind and sink Chennaiyin FC 3-1.

The victory was Kerala's fourth of the season, and it lifted their prospects of making the playoffs. The defeat was Chennaiyin's second in as many games, and the champions now face an uphill climb to defend their title.

Chennaiyin have blown hot and cold all season, failing to put together a winning run. Their tactics have been just as erratic, with the head coach Marco Materazzi always looking to test out new formations.

The pre-game notes suggested that Chennaiyin would be employing a 4-1-3-2, with the marquee player John Arne Riise used as a holding midfielder. Materazzi, though, threw yet another curve ball.

Instead, he retained Riise in central defence and pushed Bernard Mendy further up, to double up as a left winger as well as a fourth body in midfield.

Chennaiyin made that numerical advantage in the center count, as the visitors dominated right from the off. Jeje Lalpekhlua had a glimpse at goal inside two minutes, pouncing on a poor clearance to test Kerala's keeper Graham Stack with his left foot.

And soon enough, Mendy cashed in on some much-needed good fortune to put Chennaiyin ahead in the 22nd minute. He received the ball near the half-way line, and with Kerala's right-back Pratik Chowdhary caught out of position, Mendy had the freedom of Kochi to hit the accelerator and charge towards goal.

The Kerala center-backs were unsure whether to back-pedal or tackle Mendy, and invited Mendy to have a pop at goal. Mendy was more than happy to oblige, as he ran and ran, before pulling the trigger with his right from inside the box. The shot was once again deflected, but this time, Cedric Hengbart's feeble attempt at a block lifted the ball over the keeper and into the net.

At the other end, Kerala's strike force was as blunt as they had ever been all season. A subdued Michael Chopra had only six touches of the ball, while Vineeth and Kervens Belfort struggled to form an understanding. The hosts barely had a sniff at goal.

Chennaiyin were calling all the shots, and only poor finishing from Dudu Omagbemi prevented them from going into the break with a bigger advantage.

Kerala's head coach Steve Coppell made some repairs for the second half, bringing off Chopra and Belfort for Didier Kadio and Antonio German. Those changes made all the difference.

German immediately brought more drive and urgency to Kerala's attack, but luck would still desert them.

He was played through on goal in the 55th minute, and was brought down by an onrushing Duwayne Kerr. The referee blew his whistle, with everybody in Kochi expecting a free-kick and a red card for the Chennaiyin keeper, but instead, German was booked for simulation. Replays showed that German was clearly taken out by Kerr.

The tide having well turned the other way in the second half, Kerala's two substitutes made Chennaiyin pay for not closing the game off much earlier.

German was found with space and time on the left, and he took the ball to the byline before cutting it back to Kadio. Unlike Dudu in the first half, Kadio tapped home into the empty net, and suddenly, it was Chennaiyin playing on the backfoot.

Sensing that the mood around the stadium had changed, Materazzi decided to calm things down and shut shop in midfield, bringing off Mendy for Baljit Sahni, and Jeje for Hans Mulder.

His plan did not work, though. Instead, it played into Kerala's hands, the hosts now hogging all the possession and creating all the chances.

Kerala hurled cross after cross into the Chennaiyin box, and Kerr made a costly error in the 85th minute, spilling a simple collection to allow Vineeth to fire home from close range and give the home side the lead.

Much like he had done in the dramatic win against FC Goa, Vineeth wheeled away to join his team-mates in wild celebrations. They could not believe their luck. Kerr and Chennaiyin could not believe theirs.

Chennaiyin searched desperately for an equalizer in the last few minutes, and threw caution into wind, sending several men forward. It gave Kerala the opportunity to counterattack, and the hosts executed the final blow perfectly.

German, Kerala's best player on the night cut Chennaiyin's defence open with an inch-perfect pass from midfield, and Vineeth, unmarked, ran through to slip the ball beneath Kerr's body. Game, set and match.

All night long, the Kerala fans wore masks of Zinedine Zidane, trying to goad Materazzi for what they felt were disrespectful comments he had made after the first Southern derby.

Materazzi served a suspension after that game, which ended 0-0, but the Kerala fans will feel a lot better having served out their own brand of justice tonight.

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