Jobby Justin scored the first hat-trick of the tournament…

Kerala came from a goal down to beat Railways 4-2 in the 71st Santosh Trophy match played at GMC Stadium Bambolim earlier today.

Railways landed in Goa with three straight wins in the East Zone qualifiers, where they first thrashed Bihar 4-0. Later, secured an easy 3-0 win over Sikkim and defeated Jharkhand 3-1 in the last qualifying match. However, they had to face a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Punjab in their first match of the final round. While Kerala came into the final round with two wins and a draw in the South Zone qualifiers. After back-to-back 3-0 win against Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh, they settled for a goalless draw against mighty Karnataka.  

Railways gaffer Parthasarathy Thulasi made two changes to the side which lost against Punjab in the first encounter as Gurmeet Mukhi and Deepak Kachhap made it the cut. While, Kerala Coach VP Shaji also made three changes to his side, bringing in Nishon Xavier, Jijo Joseph and Sherin Sam in the starting XI. 

The first half was full of action from both the ends but Kerala started the match on an attacking note. The South Indian state completely dominated the first ten minutes as they produced numerous attacks on the opponents. 

At the other end, Railways’ Jitender Pal had a great opportunity to take his side inon the lead when Goutam Kajur nicely set up a low pass in the box to the U21 player but Kerala defender Sherin Sam cleared it in time for a corner. However, they took the lead in the very next minute when Kerala defender Joseph failed to clear the ball off the line, taking advantage of the same Rajesh Soosanayakam cut past one defender to enter the box and calmly finished the ball in the bottom left corner of the nylons.

Kerala regrouped and replied them with a quick attack when the skipper Usman P sent a cross to Jobby Justin in the box, but his overhead kick missed the target by hairline distance. However, Jobby found the equaliser for his side in the very next minute. This time Xavier sent a perfect cross to Jobby in the box who brilliantly headed the ball inside the far post as Railways shot-stopper could only watch it going in.

Railways almost took the lead on the half-hour mark but Kerala’s defender Lijo S. made an excellent goal-line clearance to deny Soosanayakam from scoring his second. A few minutes later, they had one more chance to go into the lead but this time Mukhi’s header sailed over the crossbar from close range.

After wasting so many chances, Kerala finally surged ahead just before the half time whistle when Jobby’s sparkling 25-yard free-kick stunned everyone and entered the top corner.

Like in the first session, Kerala started the second half with several attacks on the opponents. Kerala were clearly the dominant side as they scored another goal in the 63rd minute. Jobby made no mistake to direct the ball into the back of the nylons and complete his hat-trick off Jishnu Krishnan’s corner. Kerala’s skipper Usman made it 4-1 for his side when he headed in from close range off Krishnan’s perfect cross from the right.

Though Railways were trailing by three goals, they never gave up and kept their attacks going and got the consolation reward just four minutes before the full-time whistle. Rajbir Boro’s curling free-kick near the post found unmarked Soosanayakam, who made an easy tap and scored his second of the match.

“This was our first match and the first match is always difficult but we played well and completely dominated the match.” Kerala coach Shaji said after the full-time whistle.  

In the day’s other match played at Tilak Maidan Vasco, Mizoram and Punjab played out a goalless draw. With four points each, Mizoram and Punjab stay at the top and second place respectively, while Kerala stand in the third place with three points.