Kerala snatched a point from the jaws of defeat as substitute Muhammed Parakkottil banged in two goals in the last ten minutes to earn a thrilling 2-2 draw against Punjab at GMC Stadium, Bambolim. In a match that came alive in the second half, Punjab after playing the counter attacking game were 2-0 up with just ten minutes of play left, however Kerala came from the dumps to gain a valuable point that keeps them firmly in contention for a semi-final berth.
Both teams had relatively equal chances to score in the first half although Punjab had the better of the share. Kerala skipper Usman P had a great chance to put his team in the lead when he received a through ball from the midfield, beat the offside trap and got past the keeper. But just as he was about to turn and take a shot, he was closed down by three on rushing Punjab defenders. Then again a couple of minutes later, a cross from the right saw the ball elude the Punjab keeper and defender Rajbir Singh. But in spite of two Kerala attackers waiting on the other side of the cross they failed to score. Punjab too had chances of their own. In the 11th minute a superb volley by Vijay Kumar was well saved by the Kerala keeper Midhun V. He was again called into action when he saved a fine header from Rajbir Singh to keep the score at 0-0 going into the break.
In the second half, Punjab relied on some fine counter attacking play to go 2-0 up within the first twenty minutes of the second half. First a strong cross from the left by Amandeep Singh went dangerously close to the goal and Kerala defender Sherin Sam knocked it into his own net while trying to clear the cross.
In the 57th minute, Punjab coach Kuldip Singh must have thought he had the three points in the bag. A lovely diagonal ball across the Punjab midfield found Manvir Singh in acres of space on the left. Credit to him though, he kept his composure, feigned two defenders and neatly placed the ball past an onrushing Midhun who could just watch the ball fly past him.
With nothing to lose, Kerala coach V P Shaji rolled the last dice and brought in Muhammed Parakkottil. And the U-21 youngster didn’t disappoint his coach and the travelling journalists from Kerala. Two minutes before the end of regulation time, a brilliant pacey cross by Jobby Justin found Parakkottil, whose bullet header gave the Punjab keeper Paramjit Singh absolutely no chance of saving it. Kerala were right back in it and luck was on their side when the fourth official showed five minutes of added on time. With seconds to go before the final whistle, Jobby Justin, turned provider again when hiss flick header found Parakkottil who was at the right place at the right time to deflect the ball into the Punjab goal sending the Kerala bench into raptures.
Kerala with this draw have four points from two matches while Punjab with 5 points from three games need a win in their final match against Maharashtra to have any hopes of reaching the semi-finals. At Tilak Maidan, Vasco, a Rahul Dias own goal in the 32nd minute relegated Maharashtra to a shock 0-1 defeat to Railways and almost ended their campaign in this year’s Santosh Trophy. After narrowly losing out to Mizoram in their first game by an identical scoreline, Maharashtra needed a win to keep their hopes alive in the tournament. However the 1999-00 winners leaves them with virtually no chance of reaching the semi-finals.