KOZHIKODE: Gokulam Kerala secured third place in the I-League 2022-23 after registering a 1-0 victory against Sreenidi Deccan at the EMS Stadium on Sunday. In the penultimate game of the season, Gokulam Kerala's Sergio Mendigutxia's second-half penalty proved to be the decisive goal.
The hosts, however, also owed their victory to the heroics of Shibinraj Kunniyil in goal. Kunniyil was rightly adjudged the Hero of the Match for his outstanding performance.
Both Gokulam Kerala and Sreenidi Deccan started the game cautiously, with nothing much to separate them. Ramhlunchhunga was the standout player for the visitors and made some promising moves in the final third, but unfortunately, he couldn't convert the chances that fell his way.
For the hosts Noufal was a hub of activity on the right wing, providing service to the Gokulam forwards, who failed to capitalize on his deliveries.
In the 25th minute, Sreenidi captain David Castaneda had a chance to score from a free-kick just outside the box, but the Colombian sent his shot way over the bar. The best chance of the half fell to Sergio Mendigutxia deep in injury time.
Having received a cross from the left wing Mendigutxia failed to keep his free header on target. Four minutes into the second half, the hosts were awarded a penalty after Castaneda handled the ball inside the box. Mendigutxia stepped up to take the penalty and sent a low, powerful shot into the bottom corner.
Though Sreenidi goalkeeper Harsh Patil judged the right way, he was beaten by precision and power.
At the hour mark, Sreenidi's Faysal Shayesteh almost equalized with a curling long-range free-kick, but Kunniyil dived to his left to keep the ball out of the net.
Two minutes later, Castaneda attempted a shot from a narrow-angle, but the Gokulam goalkeeper was equal to it and palmed the ball away. In the final minutes, Gokulam Kerala adopted a defensive approach and sat deep in their half to protect their one-goal lead.
In added time, substitute Konsam Phalguni Singh managed to breach their defence but was denied by Kunniyil. The goalkeeper also saved a curling effort from substitute Lalromawia before punching a long-range shot from Arijit Bagui, maintaining his well-deserved clean sheet.
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