NorthEast United held off the challenge of Kerala Blasters to take a 1-0 win at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
In a breathless encounter, the Highlanders’ Spanish forward Koke proved the difference with a stunner on the stroke of half-time, with an array of British players unable to net for the Blasters.
The result puts United level on points with Sunday’s victors Atletico de Kolkata at the summit of the Indian Super League.
After a tight opening, an excitable home crowd were almost silenced in the 16th minute, when Iain Hume converted from close range following some nice interplay between Avinabo Bag and Stephen Pearson on the left. To United’s relief, though, the linesman raised his flag for a marginal offside call.
Boosted by this foray, Kerala continued to attack, and CS Sabeeth was next to have a go, with Alexandros Tzorvas extending a right arm to parry.
Mixed game for James
However, NorthEast grew into the game and began to create chances of their own, with the pick of the action seeing a breathtaking Durga Boro strike superbly tipped onto the post by David James.
The former England goalkeeper was helpless in first-half stoppage time, though. A weak clearance sat up nicely for Koke, who snapped a volley past James and into the bottom corner.
The Blasters emerged re-energised after the interval, contributing to a highly-competitive clash, but it wasn’t until substitute Michael Chopra’s 76th-minute smash that they mustered another effort of note.
It wasn’t long before a golden opportunity fell their way, however. Hume got to the ball ahead of Tzorvas, and though his lob was hooked away from the line by Robin Gurung, Chopra could have tucked away the rebound, but instead found the Greek custodian’s feet.
The same pair were quickly involved again, when a weak kick landed with the former Newcastle United man, but his finish was poor.
Then, in the final minute of the match, Hume released Chopra once more, only for Tzorvas to produce another save in this heated battle.
This miss should have been immediately punished at the other end. With James straying from his goalmouth as Cedric Hengbart lost out to Dong Hyun Do, Milan Singh lifted the ball onto the crossbar, before the lively Korean blazed over.
It mattered little though, as Hume’s last ditch wayward drag confirmed victory for the Guwahati outfit.