Kochi: Marcelino ended a personal goal drought and in the process has offered FC Pune City a lifeline as they snatched a 1-0 win against fellow strugglers Kerala Blasters at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here Friday.
Pune’s Brazilian forward scored only his second goal of the season, in the 20th minute, as his side registered their second win of the season and moved a place forward to eighth. As for Kerala, the search for their second win has extended to ten games and they remain seventh with nine points.
In pre-match both head coaches had refused to delve deep into their top-four possibilities – David James wanted his Kerala to try and Pradyum Reddy had wished for a respectable finish.
It turns out, waning expectations got them to play more freely and with a flurry of chances to show for in the opening half-an-hour both teams had promised entertainment.
That said, with just about 200 more than their thinnest ever crowd of 8451 from Tuesday, Kerala’s estranged fanbase had kept away demanding a change in style of play. Their clamour will be more profound now that David James's side has lost four of their last six matches.
Kerala’s rotation bandwagon, however, had reached a halt, Pekuson replacing an injured Kizito being the only change.
The reluctance to tinker with a decent team from midweek against Jamshedpur reflected in their approach. But for want of a targetman — as Poplatnik sat on the bench and remained there throughout — the hosts rued missing all their chances.
Doungel had pounced on a loose ball but was forced to shoot and scuffed it, Sahal dribbled in to the edge of the box before being deflected wide without an option to pick for. Likewise, Stojanovic also fired wide.
Pune were forced to play on the counter from the onset and their system appeared to suit just that. Iain Hume was one of their four changes, and while his presence in the middle, partnering Robin Singh, liberated Marcelino, it also saw Ashique Kuruniyan pitted against Sandesh Jhingan on Kerala’s right, a duel the Kerala-based youngster flourished in.
The Malappuram lad twice smashed from range but it was his delicate through-ball for Brazilian Marcelino that proved to be the game’s defining moment. Even as he was dragged wide with Anas staying tight, Marcelino found the far corner aided by a deflection.