Koke NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC forward Koke celebrates with his teammates after scoring against Kerala Blasters in their ISL gameIANS

NorthEast United FC rewarded a ridiculously wonderful crowd in Guwahati with a hard-fought, bit-of-a-smash-and-grab win over the Kerala Blasters, as Sachin Tendulkar's side, despite plenty of huffing and puffing, failed to open their Indian Super League campaign with three points.

This was a match which was dominated by the Blasters, in terms of possession and chances created, but when it came to taking your opportunity it was Koke who came to the fore, firing home a wonderful little half-volley past David James to give NorthEast United FC a we'll-take-that-even-if-it-was-not-the-greatest-of-performances victory.

The first thing that hit you as a spectator at the Indira Gandhi Stadium was the noise – it's like the entire North East had bottled their cheers into one giant bottle at the stadium and unleashed it over the 90 minutes of the match.

The Kerala Blasters, wearing those Brazil-inspired colours, did their best to silence the crowd, however, controlling the football and dictating play. For the first half hour of the game, there was only one team in the game with the Blasters doing all the forward-thinking.

NorthEast United just failed to get hold of possession, and when they did, they could do little with it with James Keene and Koke left very much isolated.

At the other end, Kerala's two forwards were very much involved, especially CS Sabeeth, who got the nod ahead of Andrew Barisic and Michael Chopra. Iain Hume was also a busy little bee for the Kerala Blasters, making runs in behind the NorthEast defence or coming deep to pick up the ball and run at the defence.

However, for all of the Blasters' possession, chances were hard to come by as the experienced Penn Orji, who has been there and done that in Indian football, could not quite find his magical playmaking skills.

The Blasters, though, did find the back of the net in the 16th minute of the match, even if it was correctly ruled out for offside. Sabeeth, running onto a through ball on the left flank, played in a nice ball for Stephen Pearson, whose perfect cross was buried into the net by Hume. However, the Canadian international did make that run a tad too early and the offside flag was rightly raised by the assistant referee.

Sabeeth then forced a nice save from Alexandros Tzorvas, with the Greece international having to dive across to his right to keep out an effort from the edge of the box.

NorthEast United, at the other end, were forced to go for long-range efforts, with David James having to very little until the 33rd minute, when the former England goalkeeper was forced into a marvellous one-handed save to keep out a 30-and-more-yarder from Durga Boro. The ball looked destined to go into the top corner, only for the fingertips of James to turn it onto the post and safety.

However, the Kerala blasters player-manager could do little to prevent NorthEast United from making it 1-0 right on the stroke of halftime, as Koke, the former Malaga and Rayo Vallecano player, swept the ball into the bottom corner brilliantly off a half-volley.

It was a little cruel on the Blasters to go into halftime a goal down, but the incredible crowd in Guwahati had got their first special moment of the evening.

The second half was all about more pressing and probing from the Kerala Blasters, but that NorthEast backline, marshalled quite well by Spain World Cup winner Joan Capdevila, could not be pierced.

The Blasters did put the ball in the back of the net again, but one more time it was ruled out for offside, with assistant coach Trevor Morgan going into all-out attack mode in the final 20 minutes, by bringing on Michael Chopra and Andrew Barisic.

Chopra nearly got the first ever goal for the Blasters with a nice little run and shot which needed a really good save by Tzorvas.

Chopra, who will definitely start games for his side once he gets his fitness to a 100 percent, then had the best chance of the game for the Kerala Blasters in the 84th minute, with only a goalline clearance keeping the score at 1-0 to the home side.

There were a few frantic moments at either end in the final five minutes, with both teams coming close to scoring the second goal of the game, but 1-0 it remained, which suited NorthEast United and the home crowd perfectly.

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