Malappuram (Kerala) [India], April 20 (ANI): Despite going a goal down in the initial stages against Gujarat, defending champions Services showed grit to record their first win in the 75th NFC for Santosh Trophy 2021-22. They beat Gujarat 3-1 in Group B.
Stung by their loss to Manipur in the opener, Services kicked off with clear intentions be in charge. Gujarat by contrast were happy to play on the counter, defending deep and in numbers.
In the 19th minute came the breakthrough, albeit not in the way Services imagined it. Against the run of play, Gujarat pressed forward, winning the ball in midfield before Pranav Kanase danced his way into the box on the right. The winger played a delicate cross in, through the legs of the Services defender in front of him. An onrushing Jay Kanani made no mistake tapping the ball in first time from five yards out to give Gujarat a shock lead.
Services then pushed forward in numbers to level the game. Just as Gujarat thought they would take the lead into halftime came the equaliser. In the second minute of injury time, after some neat wing play, the ball fell to Nikhil Sharma, in the six yard box. The youngster scored to ensure the teams went even into the break.
Services' second half performance was more measured, and tactically more aware too. Right from the start they capitalised on Gujarat's inexperienced wingbacks. In the 49th minute, Nikhil danced in past the defenders on the right, setting himself up perfectly for a left foot curler only to see it deflected off target. The ball, unfortunately for Gujarat, fell in the path of Krishnakanta Singh, who slotted into an empty net to give Services a deserved lead.
From thereon Services controlled the game, happy to hold possession and keep Gujarat at arm's length and do enough to keep carving opportunities for themselves.
In the 85th minute, Services ensured the result. After a long period of sustained pressure a cross from Vivek Kumar on the left found Mahata who headed the ball perfectly to give Services a third goal. As he wheeled away in celebration Services breathed easy, knowing that they finally had points on the board and a chance to defend their crown. (ANI)