Gokulam Kerala storm past Eastern Sporting Union, Kickstart make first final

Ahmedabad, May 19:  Defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC cruised past Eastern Sporting Union 5-1 in the Hero Indian Women’s League semi-final at the TransStadia on Friday, May 19, 2023.
The Malabarians started the game on the strong foot and pressurised the Eastern Sporting Union defence right from the get-go. Goalkeeper Elangbam Panthoi Chanu had a particularly busy time staving off Gokulam Kerala’s constant attempts on goal.
In the 18th minute, however, Gokulam were stunned when Yumnam Kamala Devi gave the Imphal-based team the lead out of nowhere with a goal-of-the-season contender. The forward took control of an aerial delivery outside the box and drove it outrageously to catch Gokulam Kerala goalkeeper Beatrice Ntiwaa Nketia away from the line as the ball landed right into the back of the net.
The goal instilled some confidence into Eastern Sporting Union as they kept marching forward in numbers. However, the Malabarians bounced back stronger and continued to produce some good passages of play in the opposition half. In the 26th minute, their hard work paid dividends. Sabitra Bhandari was brought down inside the box by Heirangkhongjam Linda Chanu and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot. Indumathi Kathiresan made no mistake in finding the back of the net as she pulled the scores level at 1-1.
The two teams seemed to fight tooth and nail with the aim of gaining a lead in the game. In the end, it was Gokulam Kerala who found the big breakthrough in the dying seconds of the first half. The usual suspect Sabitra Bhandari snatched a long ball from Loitongbam Ashalata Devi and rounded Panthoi before slotting it home. 
Having taken the lead at half-time, the Malabarians stepped up their game and fired on all cylinders in the second half. Substitute forward Vivian Adjei went on to make it 3-1 in the 55th minute as she completed a brilliant team move with a goal. Indumathi delivered a dangerous through ball from the half-line towards Bhandari, who squared the ball for Adjei. The Ghanaian tapped the ball in comfortably to take the game further away from Eastern Sporting Union’s reach.
Ultimately, in the 70th minute, another link-up play between Bhandari and Indumathi saw the latter scoring her second of the game to make it 4-1. Bhandari recovered possession near the half-line and dribbled it through the right flank. The Nepal forward spotted Indumathi’s run and delivered an inch-perfect aerial cross in. The Indian midfielder connected perfectly with a header as the ball landed in the top right corner.
To cap the wonderful night, Bhandari too completed her brace in the fifth minute of added time with another calm finish past Panthoi. This time Adjei turned provider for the goal as the Malabarians completed a jubilant comeback victory. The win means that Gokulam Kerala are now just one step away from their third straight Hero IWL title.
India international Indumathi Kathiresan was awarded the Player of the Match for her quality display in the midfield, backed by two goals.
Kickstart ‘Two Good’ for Sethu:
In the earlier semi-final, Kickstart FC made the Hero IWL final for the first time in their history after defeating Sethu FC 2-0 at the TransStadia on Friday, May 19, 2023.
Sethu began the proceedings on a positive note as they came close to opening the scoring in the seventh minute. Sumati Kumari’s inch-perfect cross from the left flank was met by Apurna Narzary with a header. But her attempt deflected off a Kickstart defender and went out for a corner kick.
To the former Hero IWL champions’ surprise, Kickstart took an unprecedented lead three minutes later. Kioko Elizabeth Katungwa caught the Sethu defence off-guard and poked an incoming ball through the legs of goalkeeper Anjila Subba to make it 1-0.
The team from Bengaluru continued to press hard and forced Sethu to play on the back foot. In the 24th minute, Kaviya Pakkirisamy almost doubled her side’s lead from a free-kick. The forward’s powerfully-struck left-footed shot missed the target by inches.
On the other end, Naorem Priyangka Devi came tantalisingly close to equalising for Sethu. The 20-year-old showed great footwork to see off a Kickstart defender and went for a long shot. Goalkeeper Maibam Linthoingambi Devi just got her fingertips to it as the ball hit the bottom side of the woodwork, before being cleared off by the Kickstart defence. The Madurai side were unlucky again as their top-scorer Kajol Dsouza’s solid strike came off the crossbar just a few minutes later.
However, it was Saru Limbu for Kickstart who produced a moment of sheer brilliance deep into the added time of the first half. The Nepal  midfielder dribbled through the midfield unchallenged and had all the time to take a peek at the goal and drive it from distance. Her fierce strike was out of her international teammate Anjila Subba’s reach as it went straight through the top left corner and into the back of the net.
Sethu showed signs of resurgence in the second half as they looked desperate to bounce back into the game. In the 72nd minute, the lively Sumati Kumari marched forward for a through ball and fired a grounded shot with her left foot which missed the target by a whisker. 
Kickstart held their two-goal lead firmly and capped off a memorable evening with a convincing win. Wangkhem Linthoingambi Devi was adjudged the Player of the Match for her terrific outing in the Kickstart defence.