Ludhiana, January 20: A Dipanda Dicka brace helped Punjab FC registered a 3-1 victory over Gokulam Kerala FC on Monday at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana.
Sergio Barboza Jr. broke the deadlock in first-half stoppage time before a Henry Kisekka goal drew the visitors level in the 52nd minute. Dipanda Dicka restored Punjab's advantage via a free-kick in the 64th minute, before adding his second in stoppage time to seal the three points in emphatic fashion.
Yan Law named an unchanged Starting XI, choosing not to experiment as the race for the title begins to take shape, with their opponents for the day firmly in the equation.
Fernando Varela, on the back of Gokulam's resounding victory against Quess East Bengal, made just two changes to his side, with Mohamed Irshad and Muthu Irulandi getting the nod in his 3-5-2.
The visitors didn't waste a minute in making their intentions clear, as it took them only 20 seconds after kick-off to rattle the woodwork, as Marcus Joseph went on to have a crack from distance, but was denied by a fully stretched Kiran Limbu, who did well to get a fingertip and parry it onto the frame of the goal.
In the third minute, it was Joseph again, whose corner took an unexpected swerve towards goal that caught everyone by surprise, but Limbu did well to react just on time and punch it clear.
Punjab looked all over the place, struggling to find themselves out of their own half with Gokulam in total control. In the 16th minute, Joseph whipped in a beautiful cross from a set-piece down the right flank, which was met by the toe of Jestin George, but his speculative touch almost paid dividends, as it ricocheted off the near post. The rebound fell to Joseph, but he blasted it wide.
In the 33rd minute, Salman Kalliyath was played through down the right and with only a man to beat, made a total hash of it. Caught between two minds - on whether to shoot or pass it to a lurking Kisekka - but in the end, did neither.
Much against the run of play, Punjab took the lead in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. A Cavin Lobo strike from distance hit Dipanda Dicka on the way, who knew nothing about it, but the deflection fell kindly to Sergio Barboza Jr., who made no mistake in squaring it past the keeper. Gokulam played all the football, but it was Punjab who walked away with the goal, heading into the break.
In the second half, Gokulam stuck to their game plan and were rewarded early, in the 52nd minute. It was yet another exquisite set-piece from Joseph, which found Kisekka. He received it with a deft first touch and hammered it goalwards with his second, as his effort ricocheted off the crossbar and went in.
The game was about to turn on its head, as Punjab played it smart hereon, playing out from the back whilst allowing the visitors more possession. The hosts earned a free-kick on the edge of the 18-yard box, yet again in total contrast to the run of play. Dipanda Dicka stepped up and did just enough to get it up and over the wall, leaving Ubaid CK in goal stranded to restore his side's advantage.
Punjab put the cherry on the icing on the top by adding a third, in the first minute of stoppage time. With three minutes to go, Ubaid CK made a catastrophic error with the ball at his feet. With Dicka lurking, the Kerala keeper tried to play smart by dribbling past him but his audacious attempt was made to pay, as Dicka snatched the ball from his feet and with the keeper in no man's land, added a third to seal the three points as Punjab registered a statement victory in the race for Hero I-League glory.
The result sees Punjab remain on second place with 14 points, three behind leaders Mohun Bagan, while Gokulam remain with 10 points, losing by the same margin they had won a few days ago, serving as an anecdote to the difference, a few days can make in football.
Dipanda Dicka was rightfully awarded the Hero of the Match.
Source: AIFF Release