Marquee player Aaron Hughes marked his return to the Kerala Blasters fold with an inspirational performance as the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned side registered a convincing 2-1 victory over FC Pune City in a crucial ISL encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here on Friday.
The victory was a big step forward for Blasters in their quest for a place in semifinal playoffs as they jumped to third spot in ISL standings with 18 points from 12 games. The defeat dented Pune’s prospects for a place in last-four as they slipped to fifth spot (15 points) with just a game remaining in the league phase.
The man whom Blasters should thank for stepping in when it mattered was Hughes. The 37-year-old, who had missed three previous games of the Kerala side as he was part of Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign, not only galvanized the entire Blasters unit but also scored an important goal which helped them extend their winning streak at home to four matches.
Duckens Nazon was the other goal scorer for Blasters while Pune’s consolation goal came late in the game when their Spanish forward Anibal Rodriguez scored in added-on time.
Blasters started out with a lot of intent and got rewarded in the seventh minute. CK Vineeth put Nazon through on the left wing and the Haitian striker accelerated with the ball at lightning speed to enter the box before sending a shot into the far corner of Pune net leaving goalkeeper Edel Bete a mute spectator.
Pune’s four-man defence led by old Indian warhorse Gouramangi Singh struggled to match the pace of Nazon and Kervens Belfort as the duo put their rival backfour under intense pressure as Blasters completely dominated the first half.