Srinagar: The fairy tale run of Real Kashmir Football Club in the I-League continued as the club from the Valley defeated Gokulam Kerala FC by a solitary goal to go to the top of points table here on Wednesday.
The match between the Snow Leopards and Gokulam was played at the TRC Ground in chilling weather conditions amid a mix of rain and snowfall with none of the teams willing to yield the ground.
Ivorian striker Gnohere Krizo scored the all-important goal in the 51st minute to hand Real Kashmir full three points from the match.
The win propelled the Jammu and Kashmir side to the top of the table with 32 points, dislodging Chennai City FC (30 points) which, however, have two games in hand over Real Kashmir.
Chennai City will take on Indian Arrows on Friday while Real Kashmir will meet East Bengal at home on Sunday. Each team will play 20 matches in the league.
It started snowing before the match and heavy rains lashed the ground later on. The two sides played a goal-less first half as controlling the ball became difficult for the players of both the teams due to waterlogging in many patches of the Synthetic Astro Turf pitch.
Real Kashmir should have taken the lead in the first half but Krizo missed several easy chances to put his side ahead.
Mason Robertson, son of head coach David, who was playing behind Krizo in a 4-4-1-1 formation, also missed a couple of chances to score.
However, it was Krizo who broke the deadlock after the break, pouncing on a rebound in front of the Gokulam goal in the 51st minute.
Local boy Farhan Ganiae saw his fierce shot from the top of the box stopped by Gokulam custodian Arnab Das but Krizo was well placed to tap in the rebound.
After taking the lead, Real Kashmir players relaxed a bit, allowing a window of opportunity for the team from Kerala to push for an equaliser.
While Kerala striker Marcus Joseph was wayward in most of his attempts at the goal, Real Kashmir goalkeeper Bilal Khan was in top form to deny the visiting team.
Real Kashmir had the chance to double their lead in the 80th minute but Abednego Tetteh, who came on for Krizo in the 73rd minute, shot wide of Das’ right post from 15 yards.
This was the ninth clean sheet for the Real Kashmir, which has the meanest defence in the I-League this year, having conceded only eight goals in 16 games so far.
Real Kashmir coach Robertson said topping the table was a great motivation for his team but they have to focus on the remaining games of this campaign.
“The boys showed some real character under the difficult conditions and I am really happy with the results. Topping the table is a great motivation for us, but we have to focus on the coming matches,” he said.
Sandeep Chattoo and Shamim Meraj, co-founders of the club, believe the win against Gokulam has kept their team in the title hunt.
“We are thrilled to see such commitment and passion showcased by the players. It is a crucial juncture in the league and winning this match has kept us well ahead in the hunt for the title.
Gokulam Kerala played well in these tough conditions but this was not their day and the Snow Leopards hunted them down,” they said.