PANAJI: Coach VP Shaji’s last throw of the dice proved decisive as a brave substitution with just six minutes left on the clock helped Kerala fight back from two goals down to hold Punjab 2-2 in an exciting Santosh Trophy clash at GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim, on Friday.
Kerala were staring at an unlikely defeat as Punjab struck twice in the second session through Sherin Sam’s own goal (49th minute) and Manvir Singh (57th minute). It looked like the high-flying Kerala would be grounded for once but substitute Muhammed Parakkottil turned the match on its head with goals in the 89th minute and the fourth minute of added time.
It was a stunning point for Kerala. The way they celebrated running around the stadium, it seemed as good as a win but credit must go where it is due. When time was running out, coach Shaji was brave enough to replace his captain and experienced striker P Usman with the young Parakkottil, who delivered in style.
His first goal for Kerala came just a minute before end of regulation time when he emerged from nowhere inside the box to hoodwink his marker and head home a strong cross from Jobby Justin, the man who scored a hat-trick in the previous game.
Punjab were still breathing easy. After all, it was the last minute of play, but when the fourth official showed five added minutes, Kerala had renewed hope. They pressed more men forward, tried their luck from distance but nothing worked. Punjab did their best to unsportingly kill time: three players fell to the ground, simultaneously, and needed attention but Kerala still had time to grab the equalizer.
It came in the fourth minute of added time. A long throw-in from Lijo saw Jobby flick the ball for Parakkottil and the under-21 striker did the rest with another smart header inside a crowded goalmouth.
It was quite a dramatic end to the match, leaving Punjab with just two points from two matches. The eight-time champions needed a win after only managing a point in the opener but, in simple terms, they had only themselves to blame for not being in a new position of strength.
For Punjab, the first half misses were pardonable. Immediately in the second, they surged ahead when Kerala defender Sherin Sam turned Amandeep Singh’s menacing cross into his own goal. Their counter-attacking game proved successful again as they enjoyed a 2-0 advantage just before the half-hour mark when Manvir beat the offside trap to slam the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper.
Despite 30 minutes still left to be played, Punjab were comfortable. They took it easy, and even though Kerala kept pushing, nothing changed. Until Parakkottil stepped in and changed the course of the match with two late goals. [TOI]