Spanish striker Sergio Contreras Pardo’s opportunistic first-half strike gave NorthEast United FC a 1-0 victory over Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala Blasters FC in the second match of the Hero Indian Super League, in Guwahati, on Monday night.
The former Marseille player, popularly known as Koke, struck at the stroke of half-time with a snap angular right-footer from the top of the box, sending the ball past former England custodian David James’s far right.
Following an Aibor Khongjee throw inside the box, David Ngaihte squared the ball towards the top for Koke. The 31-year-old 'Man from Malaga' drove home on the run, much to the surprise of the Kerala Blasters’ keeper.
NorthEast could have gone ahead in the 33rd minute but a 30-yard pile-driver from Durga Boro was brilliantly saved by an airborne James.
Boro unleashed a pile-driver with his out-step but James did well to dive full stretch to his left and parry the ball, which was travelling high to the far corner of the net.
With Tendulkar cheering in the stands, the Blasters could have taken the lead but an Iain Hume goal was ruled off-side by the referee.
Jamie McAllister dropped in a beautiful pass on the left flank for Stephen Pearson, whose assist saw Hume tap the ball into the net. However, the linesman's flag was raised.
It was the 'Yellow Brigade', coached by Trevor Morgan, who were on the ascendancy during the better part of the 30 minutes but former East Bengal playmaker Penn Orji and current Mohun Bagan striker CS Sabeeth could not provide the team with decisive result.
In the 27th minute, Sabeeth dodged past a defender and essayed a powerful shot towards the near post, but NorthEast custodian Alexandros Tzorvas, who had a fine match, dived brilliantly and averted the danger.
In the 55th minute, Hume charged down the right flank to essay a measured cross, along the ground, in front of the goal but Aibor Khongjee cleared it for a corner.
The biggest disappointment for the Blasters was former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra.
Within seven minutes of each other, Chopra messed up couple of chances. In the 77th minute, he twisted and turned to break away from three defenders, made space and fired towards the far post but Tzorvas dived to his right to deflect the ball away.
In the 84th minute, Hume received a header inside the box but as he lost balance, lobbed the ball over ‘keeper Tzorvas, who got his fingertips to it. However, defender Robin Gurung did well to clear.
Gurung's clearance went to Chopra, who was within five yards but his effort lacked the power and direction to make an impression on the NorthEast goal.