Kolkata, Feb 13 (PTI) Gokulam Kerala FC kept alive their hopes of finishing in the top half of the I-League table before the next round by defeating high-flying TRAU 3-1 here on Saturday.
An Emil Benny master-stroke (16th minute) in the first half coupled with Sharif Mohammad's (57th) and Zodingliana Ralte's (86th) second-half strikes led the Vincenzo Annese-coached side to an easy win.
Komron Tursunov (87th) pulled a goal back for TRAU in the dying moments of the game.
Gokulam played their usual style of football by keeping possession and rotating the ball on the flanks from the very start of the match.
Crosses into the box for Dennis Antwi and Philip Adjah became a common sight as the Malabarians tried to take an early lead. In the eighth minute, Naocha Singh's cross was plucked from the air by Dennis Antwi, but goalkeeper Amrit Gope made an astounding save to keep TRAU's clean sheet intact.
With quick play around the box, Gokulam tried to unlock the opposition defence. While doing so, they were exposed to counter-attacks, a speciality of TRAU.
In the 12th minute, Joseph Olaleye's cross from the right flank fell to Bidyashagar Singh outside of the box. The midfielder, however, tried to attempt the spectacular, hitting it the first time, but failed to test the opposition goalkeeper.
Where TRAU failed, a moment of magic for the Malabarains made them succeed four minutes later.
Vincy Barreto's cross from the right flank found an onrushing Emil Benny inside the box. Benny volleyed it first time into the back of the net to give Gokulam the lead.
Although TRAU lacked creativity up front and Tajik forward Tursunov was isolated on more than one occasion, the best chance for them came in the 35th minute when Kishan Singh's freekick found Shahbaaz on the far post.
Shahbaaz pulled the ball back for the TRAU attack force to take advantage, but neither Tursunov nor Bidyashagar were around to tap home from close range.
Gokulam were provided a golden chance to double their lead going into half-time but Dennis Antwi's effort rattled the post and went out in the 38th minute after he was found by a long ball. The half-time score read 1-0 in Gokulam's favour.
TRAU were dealt another blow in the 57th minute when Sharif Mohammad was found unmarked inside the box after a Dennis Antwi flick-on from a corner kick found him inside the box. With ample space and time, Sharif fired from close range into the back of the net to double the Malabarians' lead.
Meanwhile, TRAU seemed to suffer from complacency in defending, and on more than one occasion, almost gifted their opponents another goal. Upfront, chances for TRAU became rare as Tajik import Tursunov was unable to connect with the midfield.
In the 70th minute, Philip Adjah latched on to a long ball from the midfield and tried to chip the opposition goalkeeper. Amrit Gope, however, read Adjah's intention and made a save to keep TRAU from falling three goals behind. Frantic minutes of play were witnessed next.
In the 86th minute, Zodingliana Ralte bundled home his chance from close range after Dennis Antwi was brought down inside the box, to give Gokulam Kerala FC a three-goal advantage.
Immediately in the very next minute, TRAU pulled a goal back as Tursunov's shot from just inside the box whizzed past the opposition custodian and crashed into the net. PTI AH AH SSC SSC