KOCHI: When Kerala Blasters got thrashed in their opening game against ATK Mohun Bagan, the over-riding sentiment was that it was going to be a long and hard season of struggles, just like the past few seasons.
However, what ensued has been a stunning unbeaten run which has seen them move go to the summit of the Indian Super League. Their 1-0 win against Hyderabad FC at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Vasco on Sunday has turned them into serious title contenders with the team now on a nine-match unbeaten run as Ivan Vukomanovic has moulded them into an efficient and hard to beat outfit.
Alvaro Vazquez's 42nd-minute strike helped them pip Mumbai City to the top on goal difference while Hyderabad's winning streak got snapped in the process.
It was always going to be a hotly contested affair between two teams who have stood out in the league. Both Blasters and Hyderabad were looking to keep their streak intact as they locked horns.
Right from the start, the game was played at a high tempo with both sides pushing each other and playing an attacking brand of football.
Expectedly, Bartholomew Ogbeche was the target man for Hyderabad as their moves went through the former Blasters man.
Hyderabad was trying to stretch Blasters down the flanks but their defence stood tall led by the rock-solid Harmanjot Khabra whose consistent performances has been among the most under-appreciated storylines of the season so far for the yellow brigade.
Blasters goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill had to be at full stretch when he tipped over a free-kick from Edu Garcia.
As the half wore on, Blasters started growing in confidence and Adrian Luna demonstrated why he is one of the best players operating in the league right now.
Thanks to the Uruguayan, Blasters started to dominate the midfield and in turn managed to take control of the game.
Both teams were putting in a faultless performance and Blasters ended up taking the lead right before half-time. It came from a throw-in when Khabra floated in a long throw into the box and it was flicked on by Sahal Abdul Samad.
The ball took a deflection and fell perfectly to Lucas Vázquez who unleashed the perfect of volleys to beat keeper Laxmikant Kattimani.
There was very little separating the two sides and Blasters deserved their lead for putting Hyderabad under constant pressure.
The second half was played at a slightly slower tempo as Blasters managed to isolate Ogbeche upfront which nullified the threat of Hyderabad to a great extent.
A solitary goal lead was always going to be tricky against one of the in-form teams of the league. Even though Hyderabad tried to push bodies forward in search of an equaliser, the Blasters defence stood tall. This Blasters team has a certain steeliness to them which could help them go all the way.