Kerala Blasters 0 – FC Pune City 1
1) Kerala’s Lack Of Strikers A Big Handicap
Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic were supposed to contribute the goals this season for the Blasters but at five between them, they have not contributed anywhere near enough for Kerala to make a challenge for a playoff spot. The team has definitely improved on attacking parameters this season, and only Goa have more key passes and assists than Kerala’s 11.5 per game, but they do not have anyone to finish chances more than they do currently. It was the same in this match as well, with 23 shots being attempted on Pune’s goal. Only four found the target and none the back of the net. The story of the season really.
2) Vila Leads Defence Of Goal Advantage
Once Marcelinho scored in the 20thminute through a deflection off Anas Edathodika, Pune shut shop for most of the night, creating very little and that too on the counter. Along with Adil Khan, Jonathan Vila kept a lid on Kerala’s ambitions, breaking up play constantly in front of his defence and finding his man with all his passes, save two. He nearly found the back of the net on one occasion too, and it was a complete performance from the former Celta Vigo player. He has been a rare foreign player to impress for the Stallions this season, Matt Mills being the other, and he helped deliver on only a second win of the season for Pradyum Reddy’s men.
NorthEast United 0 – ATK 0
3) Keegan Pereira Back From The Shadows
Keegan’s stock has taken a bit of the beating in the ISL. A prominent presence in the I-League, he won two league titles and the Federation Cup twice with Bengaluru before finding himself surplus to requirements by Albert Roca. By then, he had also already turned out for Mumbai and Atletico De Kolkata in the ISL, given that both leagues did not run parallelly until last season. He failed to make a mark in both stints and though he returned to a rebranded ATK in 2017, a disastorous campaign followed for him and the club. Given a chance to revive his career at the Highlanders this season, the 31 year old started the first game against Goa before an unfortunate injury on the hour mark saw Robert Lalthlamuana take his place in the line-up. Keegan has since fought his way back and even though his spot is by no means assured, performances like the one against ATK show us why he was capped by the national team in 2016.
4) ATK Getting Into Their Kind Of Groove
Finally, the Kolkatan side are getting the kind of results that their manager has made his ISL career out of. After conceding in their first six games, ATK have kept a clean sheet in four out of the next five. Of course, he would love a goal or two to go with them, but then, his side sacrifice so much attacking intent in their quest for defensive solidity that they are hard to come by. Emiliano Alfaro has been brought in on loan from Pune to provide some after misfiring at the Balewadi, and promptly got injured. It looks like he could be back after the international break and he may be desperately needed. The scoreless draws keep ATK close to the top four, but at some point, the teams there will pull away at this rate. Coppell found this out the hard way last season at Jamshedpur, when one point in their last three games saw his team finish fifth. He will need to be more proactive this time around to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Bengaluru FC 1 – Mumbai City FC 1
5) Udanta Adding More Strings To Bow
Udanta Singh has been one of the more frustrating prospects in Indian football. The player whom his team mates call Flash for his lightning speed adds a dimension to Bengaluru’s attack that cannot be understated but his end product has been found wanting on a consistent basis for a long time now. Questions were being asked of Carles Cuadrat about his winger’s inability to provide assists this season, let alone score goals. The manager has backed his player, and Udanta has stepped up in recent games, following a match winning assist against Goa with three goals in his last four. Even his most ardent supporter however, would have been surprised to see him outjump Lucian Goian and guide a header into Amrinder Singh’s goal. The faces of Sunil Chhetri and Cuadrat, delighted as they were, told a story.
6) Performance Of The Season By The Islanders
It may be presumptive to term a score draw the best performance of the season so far, especially when the protagonists themselves had three consecutive impressive away wins to cite before they made the trip to Bengaluru. The context provides a few answers. Mumbai troubled the title favourites, notwithstanding Udanta’s early goal, and had deservedly equalized through Modou Sougou in the first half. Early in the second, Sehnaj Singh saw red, and the tide was expected to turn. Except that it did not. In a brilliant display of counter attacking and direct football, Sougou, Rafael Bastos and Arnold Issoko ran rings around the Bengaluru defence, silencing the partisan home fans at times. When the final whistle sounded, no one would have been more relieved than the Blues centre-backs, Juanan and Albert Serran. They had been run ragged all night and will not relish the return trip to Mumbai.
FC Pune City 2 – FC Goa 0
7) Hume The Catalyst For Pune Revival
Since all-time ISL top scorer, Iain Hume, made his first appearance of the season as a substitute against Jamshedpur, Pune have picked up nine points in five matches. Their worst performance in this period was the loss to Bengaluru and he did not feature in that match. Given that the Stallions had only two draws to show in the previous seven games, it is fair to say that he has had a hand in the turn of fortunes for the side. He had been sorely missed, as much for the mongrel spirit he possesses in spades as the goals he can contribute. He has not scored yet, but has made a nuisance of himself in the forward spaces, creating space for Robin Singh and Marcelinho. And he seems to have roused his team and the Pune faithful from the dead. The playoff places may still be a distant dream, but they are moving up the table for now.
8) Rusty Gaurs Off The Pace In This Fixture
Goa have not played in a long time. The quirks of the ISL scheduling system meant that it had been two weeks since they took on ATK in Kolkata. The rustiness showed right through the side and while they kept the ball the way they usually do, a cutting edge was missing. This showed when only 5 of their 26 shots on goal found the target. They will do well to regain it in a short turnaround against the Highlanders. NorthEast first served notice of what was to come from them in the reverse fixture, taking the Gaurs by surprise at the start of the season. There is more at stake in this one; the consolidation of a top four place before the league takes another break.
Jamshedpur FC 2 – Delhi Dynamos 1
9) Cahill Threat On Headers Proven Again
Those who have followed Tim Cahill’s career at Everton, New York Red Bulls and the Australian national team would know that his aerial threat is his greatest asset. He is not quite the same player anymore, struggling to score goals at both Melbourne City FC and Millwall before making the move to the ISL, but his headers are still a threat in a fledgling league. Having just turned 39, he does not have the legs to trouble defenders anymore but both his goals, including the equalizer in this game, have come from stooping headers. The technique on both have been great and one hopes that the young Indian forwards in Jamshedpur’s ranks are paying attention and learning.
10) Same Old Same Old For Delhi
Let me start with the good news. After conceding goals after the 70thminute in every single one of their last six matches, the Dynamos stopped that particular unwanted spree. The bad news is that they still lost. Again. And remain the only team in the league without a win. They can point to bad luck with justification just like the other teams in the bottom three have, and it was a particularly poor refereeing decision that cost them a penalty in this game, but there is a familiarity to their woes that go beyond just bad fortune. Josep Gombau ordered his players into a huddle in the centre of the pitch after the final whistle. It may have been a dressing down or a call to action before their game against fellow bottom dweller, Chennaiyin. Either way, there isn’t much to salvage from a woeful season for the Lions.