2019-20 Indian I-League
  • Danish Farooq Bhat (22')
  • Bazie Armand (27')
  • Syed Suhail Pasha (48')

Sport returns to valley as Real Kashmir beat Chennai

Fans encourage Real Kashmir during their first home game of the I-League season against Chennai City. AIFF Media

Srinagar -- Real Kashmir scored their first victory of the ongoing I-League season with a shock 2-1 defeat of defending champions Chennai City as sporting action returned to the valley after four months on Thursday.

Danish Farooq (22nd minute) and Ivory's Bazie Armand (27th) struck for the winners while Syed Suhail Pasha was the lone scorer for the visitors in the 48th minute.

Real Kashmir had drawn their away matches against Kolkata giants East Bengal and Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) of Imphal before taking on the holders in front of a packed TRC Ground.

The match was the first sports event in the valley after the centre withdrew special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two union territories.

Farooq Khan, advisor to Lt Governor G C Murmu, attended the match.

"The love of Kashmiris for football was seen at its peak as the entire stadium was packed," he said as close to 6,000 fans turned to their team in action.

Back in front of their home fans, the Snow Leopards kicked off the proceedings, staying firmly in the driving seat. Their quick and fluid, yet disciplined passing and movement was almost too much for Chennai to handle in the early stages.

The first glaring opening of the match arrived in the seventh minute, when a cross from Kallum Higginbotham found Mason Robertson, who tried an audacious chip over Nauzet Garcia Santana, but the Chennai keeper exhibited quick reflexes to deny him.

Real Kashmir kept the pressure on, not allowing the Southerners a moment's respite.

In the 13th minute, some smart footwork by Farooq, followed by an exquisite rabona flick with his weaker foot put Higginbotham through down the right.

The Englishman bulldozed his way into the six-yard box and passed it across goal for Mason Robertson to tap it into an open net, but the ever-so-reliable Scot made a total hash of it, flicking it over instead which again fell to a lurking Bazie Armand and to everyone's surprise, he missed the target too.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 22nd minute, when an exquisite set-piece delivery from Higginbotham found Farooq in the box, who waved off his marker and made just the right contact with his head, putting Real Kashmir ahead.

The hosts doubled their lead in the 27th minute. Yet again, it was Higginbotham who was involved in the mix.

He cut inside on the left, which created some space for him to deliver another immaculate delivery into the box and Bazie Armand was at the right place. He soared high and headed it into the top corner.

Kashmir almost added a third in the 39th minute, when Mason Robertson was through yet again and with Roberto Eslava on his toes, he took it past the Chennai skipper and fired across goal aiming for the far post, but it sailed inches wide, much to Chennai coach Akbar Nawas' relief.

The visitors reduced the deficit in the 48th minute. A cheeky back flick by Pravitto Rajju generated just the right elevation for Jockson Dhas to head it past Phurba Lachenpa in the Kashmir goal to bring the game right back in the balance.

Despite Chennai's newfound surge, it was Kashmir who looked likelier to score the next goal. In the 68th minute, Loveday Okechukwu was unmarked but blasted it high and wide.

In the closing stages of the game, the visitors failed to pose any real threat as the Snow Leopards held on to register their first win of their I-League campaign.

The win takes Real Kashmir to seventh place in the standings with five points, while the defending champions drop to eighth place with an inferior goal difference of -2.

Local lad Farooq was adjudged to be the Hero of the Match.

Commenting on his team's victory, Real Kashmir co-founder, Sandeep Chattoo said, "It was a splendid win and we did it for Kashmir.

"The coach and the team ensured that every Kashmiri returned smiling today back home."

Chattoo thanked the people of the valley for turning up in large numbers in support of RKFC despite chilling winter.

Two matches earlier had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions.