KOCHI: Sterile. Kerala Blasters FC coach Steve Coppell used that particular term thrice to describe his side’s display in the season opener. Forcing co-owner Sachin Tendulkar and Nimmagadda Prasad to twitch in their seats, the Blasters struggled to find any sort of cohesiveness in their one-goal loss away to NorthEast United FC. But, as Coppell — a former England and Manchester United winger — knows only too well, a sea of home fans packing themselves into an intimidating arena could be “hostile” enough to unnerve the best of opponents. And within the blink of an eye, the campaign could be back on track. The Kochi side, if anything, is in dire need of that shot in their arms to get the blood flowing, literally, to their limbs that appeared rather heavy in Guwahati.
While the 60,000-capacity Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium was a near-impregnable fortress for the Blasters in the first season, losing just once in eight games, things changed dramatically in the second season. The Blasters managed just two wins last year; and come into the new season having suffered debilitating defeats in the last two home matches. One of them came against Atletico de Kolkata — the opponents on Wednesday in their much-anticipated first home match of season three. Antonio Habas’ men had beaten the hosts 3-2, after having lost narrowly (1-2) in the inaugural edition. Though the visitors have a new coach in former Spain goalkeeper Jose Molina, much of their squad would remember those encounters.
On the evidence of what was on display in the opening matches, KBFC marquee player Aaron Hughes and his central defensive partner Cedric Hengbart have a tough task on their hands.