Mendi’s late brace turns it around for Gokulam Kerala
Gokulam Kerala ended their three-match losing streak, while Rajasthan United lost six matches on the trot amid high drama in the Hero I-League match at the Ambedkar Stadium on Wednesday.
The match looked settled in favour of the underdog till the 89th minute, when Rajasthan United captain Lalliansanga Renthlei was shown the red card by referee Rahul Kumar Gupta for bringing down Hero of the Match Sergio Mendigutxia inside the penalty box. Mendi scored from the penalty.
Kyrgyz midfielder Bektur Amangeldiev put Rajasthan United ahead in the ninth minute of the match with some luck. Atai Dzhumashev had taken a free-kick from the left wing that bounced awkwardly before Gokulam goalkeeper Shibinraj Kunniyil, who weakly palmed it away instead of trying to grab it. Bektur leapt high to head it in.
Gokulam’s Spanish forward Mendigutxia, on the other hand, had an unlucky start to the match. His header off Tanmoy Ghosh’s free-kick hit the crossbar. Otherwise Gokulam would have taken the lead then and there.
Wasting chances has been a problem for Gokulam right through the season and it once again seemed to be the case as Rajasthan could hold on to their lead despite Gokulam creating chances. PN Noufal had got an open box in front of him running down the right in the 49th minute but Bektur recovered late and blocked his shot at the last moment. Eventual hero Mendi was guilty of wasting a much easier chance in the 69th minute when he got a lob in the Rajasthan box, had enough time and nobody to block him but went wide of the second post in a rush. But he did not miss the penalty in the 90th minute after Rajasthan United were reduced to ten men.
Even then it seemed Rajasthan United would end up with a well-deserved point for their dogged defending and Bektur would finish as a hero, as he cleared Noufal’s second attempt off the goalline in the first minute of stoppage time. The first was blocked by goalkeeper Vishal Joon, with a timely outing.
But the one-man advantage weighed down Pushpender Kundu’s men, who had played a well-planned and well-executed match till their captain was sent off.
Eight minutes of stoppage time were added on and Rajasthan United looked more and more vulnerable with every minute. Eldar Moldozhunusov should have scored the winner in the eighth minute off VS Sreekuttan’s perfect lob that Farshad Noor headed on to the Kyrgyz forward. But he headed it way over.
Perhaps lady luck had decided to reward Mendi only. in the next minute, he got an identical chance to the one he had squandered early into the match. This was Noor’s cross from the right wing. Mendi headed it over the head of Joon to make it 2-1.
There was no time left for Kundu’s men to pull one back. In the heat of the moment, Gokulam coach Francesc Bonet and one of Kundu’s assistants got into an argument to be sent off.This win put Gokulam on 27 points from 17 matches, just about keeping them in the title race. But the defeat is a blow to Rajasthan United’s chances of staying out of the relegation zone.