Gokulam Kerala began their I-League campaign on a positive note by pulling off a 2-1 victory over Manipur’s NEROCA FC here on Saturday.
Henry Kisekka (43rd minute) and Marcus Joseph (49th) scored for Gokulam while Taryk Sampson (88th) pulled one back for the visitors late in the game.
Both returning coaches fielded a line-up which indicated an attacking intent. The spearheading duo of Marcus Joseph and Henry Kisekka featured in the Gokulam starting XI. Trinidadian Andre Etienne started in defence with Nathaniel Garcia in the heart of midfield.
NEROCA FC opted for a less cautious approach, with coach Gift Raikhan fielding a 3-5-2 formation. New signing and skipper, Trinidadian veteran Marvin Devon Phillip started in goal with his young compatriot Taryk Sampson starting in defence while Malian forward Boubacar Diarra was the focal point of Neroca offence.
It was the home side that dictated the tempo of the game right from the kick-off whistle in front of a packed audience of 31,184 home fans.
Gokulam had a golden chance to take the lead in the 16th minute when a cross from the left flank found Kisekka, who had a free header, but his effort was off the mark. The Ugandan, along with Marcus Joseph, remained a constant threat throughout the game.
In the 35th minute, Marcus Joseph had a free-kick which he attempted to shoot under the wall, but it ricocheted off the defence and fell at his feet again. He attempted to volley it but his effort missed the mark by a whisker, sailing over the crossbar.
The deadlock was broken in the 43rd minute, when Kisekka’s left-footed effort from close range found the back of the net to send Gokulam in front, going into half-time.
The second half began the way the first half had ended. In the 49th minute, a cross from the right flank found Joseph inside the box and he made no mistake in scoring from the open header to double the home side’s advantage.
Against the run of play, NEROCA pulled one back in the 88th minute. An acrobatic bicycle kick from Taryk Sampson off a set-piece gave the visitors a lifeline but it turned out to be nothing more than a consolation.
The Malabarians earned all three points to start their season on a positive note, following up from their Durand Cup-winning pre-season form.