Delhi Dynamos extended their dismal run in the Hero Indian Super League as they lost by a solitary goal to Kerala Blasters to remain at the bottom of the table and put themselves in a difficult position to qualify for the semifinals on Sunday.
Second half substitute Penn Orji scored the all-important goal in the 61st minute as Kerala notched up their third win in nine matches to jump to third spot in the league standings.
Delhi made as many as half a dozen changes in their starting line up from the one that lost 1-4 against FC Goa in their last match here, with captain Alessandro Del Piero taking the field after sitting out of a match but it was same old story for the home side as they slumped to their fourth loss in the tournament at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
It turned out to be another disappointing day for Delhi as their frontmen continued with their inability to score goals but Del Piero had his best day on the field since the start of the league.
The final pass or the final strike never came. Del Piero was at the thick of things with his free-kicks, corner kicks and a few fine passes but all went abegging.
Del Piero had flashes of his old trickery but did not result to any success. He sent Malsawmtluanga on the clear with a fine pass in the 27th minute but the Indian midfielder failed to control the ball properly under pressure from a defender.
The Italian legend was on the verge of scoring his first goal of the tournament but his running header in the 39th minute off a fine cross from the right by Junker.
But, teammate Adil Khan, who was also going for the ball, stood in the way and blocked it, unintentionally though. The ball went towards the right corner and was cleared by defender Cedric Hengbart.
Needing a win to keep themselves in contention for a semifinal berth, both sides showed their attacking intent by pushing the defensive line high and it was a battle of midfield superiority.
There was not much to separate between the two with clear chances not coming either way and Orji’s strike made the difference to the disappointment of the sizable home supporters who turned up on Sunday.
With Sunday’s loss, their fourth in five matches, Delhi remained at the bottom of the eight-team league standings with seven points from mine matches. They have just tasted one win.
Kerala jumped to third spot with 12 points from nine matches, though they have played one more match than the six remaining teams.
Delhi suffered a jolt by the halftime as key central defender Wim Raymaekers was injured and was replaced by Stijn Houben.
The second half saw Delhi giving away spaces for Kerala attackers and the visitors struck just past the hour mark with in-form Penn Orji finding the target five minutes after coming on to the field in place of Raphael Romey in the 56th minute.
Souvik Chakraborty gave away the ball at his own Delhi half and after an interchange with Iain Hume, Orji sent the ball past keeper Kristof Van Hout with a depth placement to the celebration of Kerala supporters among the sizeable crowd at the stadium.
It could have been 2-0 for Kerala four minutes later, but Gonsalves Milagres hit Van Hout’s trailing leg in front of Delhi goal.
Earlier, Delhi made six changes from their last match starting eleven with Del Piero taking the place of Gustavo Dos Santos while Mads Junker taking the place of Morten Skoubo upfront.
Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Pavel Elias and Souvik Chakraborty took the field in place of Robert Lalthlamuana, Bruno Herrero and Steven Dias at the midfield while Adil Khan came in for Naoba Singh.