Stephen Pearson has been one of the unsung heroes for the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League, an everpresent in the lineup, with ridiculous energy and the driving force for the team in yellow from midfield.
With the match hanging on a knife's edge and penalties looking inevitable, in stepped that man named Pearson to slot home the most dramatic of goals in the 117th minute to give the Kerala Blasters a stunning, mouth-is-still-somewhere-near-the-jaw victory over Chennaiyin FC, who gave it everything, producing a stirring comeback with attack-policy from minute one, before eventually falling short.
Chennaiyin FC had their backs firmly planted to the wall after a 3-0 loss in the first leg semifinal of the ISL, but they brought themselves back into the tie in some style, with some help from the referee, who sent Jamie McAllister off before the half hour, scoring three unanswered goals themselves via Mikael Silvestre, a Sandesh Jhingan own goal, and Jeje Lalpekhlua, right at the end of normal time.
That third goal made it 3-3 on aggregate with the game going into extra time, where Marco Materazzi, the Chennaiyin player-manager, was given a red card after two quickfire yellows, before Pearson sent the Kerala Blasters into the ISL final with a goal for the ages.
Jhingan, who would have wanted to dig a hole, jump in and never come out after being at fault for all three Chennaiyin goals, flopped the ball forward to Pearson, who took a couple of touches to get clear on goal before slotting past Shilton Paul's right hand to make it 3-1 on the night for Chennaiyin, but 4-3 on aggregate for the Kerala Blasters.
The match began along expected lines, with Chennaiyin making their intentions clear and remarkably simple – attack from second one, press the Kerala Blasters players when they have the ball and fire in as many crosses and long balls into the box as they can.
Those long balls and crosses were dangerous mainly due to the fact that Marco Materazzi, the player-manager and a centre-back by trade, was playing pretty much as an auxiliary striker, with the well over 6ft 3 in frame of his working wonders.
Materazzi kept winning the first ball time after time and with it putting the Kerala Blasters defence under constant pressure.
That pressure only increased in the 28th minute when Jamie McAllister saw red for a second bookable offence. While the second foul, on Chennaiyin skipper Bernard Mendy, was as obvious a yellow card as they come, the first one will probably go down as one of the most ridiculous ones.
Taking the corner from the Blasters right, McAllister was booked by the referee for time wasting, when the Kerala defender had been forced to move the ball back inside the corner arc after the assistant asked him to.
Making sure you have early control of the game, and ensuring there is no timewasting is fine, but there is a fine line. The Blasters continued to feel hard done by as those 50-50 fouls and decisions kept going Chennaiyin's way and that feeling of "what on earth is going on" only increased when McAllister was given his marching orders for holding Mendy after initially losing the ball.
That red card meant this semifinal second leg was going to be an attack vs training exercise, and it was about which team would blink first. It was the Kerala Blasters, with the opening goal coming in the 42nd minute.
Materazzi swung in a freekick, won after a debatable foul, and Mikael Silvestre was on hand to get in ahead of Sandesh Jhingan and nod home from seven yards.
The second half was going to be all about Chennaiyin's attacks as well, and so it proved to be with the home team winning a penalty after just two minutes in.
Jhingan was the culprit again, with the referee pointing to the spot after the Kerala Blasters defender and Chennaiyin striker Jean-Eudes Maurice came together inside the box – it was a soft one, even if there might have been a bit of contact.
Materazzi stepped up to the spot and put it away only for the referee to ask him to take it again after Maurice ran into the box too early. This time, Materazzi's nerve would not hold, with the experienced Italian putting his penalty just wide of the post to give Kerala Blasters come breathing room.
But that breathing room would not last for rest of the game, as Jhingan's nightmare semifinal got worse, with the youngster scoring an own goal of stunning proportions. Hardly under any pressure, Jhingan chested the ball towards his own goal without looking at his goalkeeper Sandip Nandy, who had come well off his line, for no reason it must be said, with the ball trickling over the line.
Chennaiyin would complete their immense comeback on 90 minutes, and boy was it another goal with plenty of talking points. Mendy made a brilliant run down the left, leaving Michael Chopra and Jhingan behind before standing up a nice cross across goal for Jeje to slot home at the far post. The goal should not have stood, though, with the ball clearly coming off the striker's hand/bicep, but the referee or his assistant, even if they had a decent view, did not rule the goal out.
It was the final nail in the coffin of what the Kerala Blasters would have thought was the game where luck deserted them, with extra time doing what it does best create more drama.
Marco Materazzi was at the centre of it, with the Chennaiyin player-manager becoming the second player to get sent off in the game. It was almost as if the referee thought he had to even the game up – about 75 minutes too late the Kerala Blasters will think – with Materazzi given two yellow cards, both of them quite soft, in the space of a few seconds just before the first period of extra time.
With the match back on level terms in terms of bodies on the field, the Blasters were a reinvigorated outfit, and there was that man Pearson to score the most important goal of the season so far for his side right at the death to send Kerala into dreamland and the ISL finale in Mumbai, where they will meet either FC Goa or Atletico de Kolkata.