KOCHI: Kerala Blasters FC fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Staium were on their feet cheering in unison just once on Wednesday. That was when Sachin Tendulkar walked on to the pitch at half-time. His team, however, did not offer the crowd that opportunity again. The fans have never been as silent as they were in the first home match of the new season – an unambiguous statement on the quality on display from their team against Atletico de Kolkata.
“The squad is not quite balanced. But we will make do,” coach Steve Coppell had said ahead of the match. He tried, making as many as six changes to the starting eleven from the season opener against NorthEast United FC. But the team could not match up to the expectations. On numerous occasions, they were late to respond, whether trying to receive a pass or closing down an opponent, and were left scrambling in an attempt to get possession. ATK, not at their best, went back with three points from a scrappy game to make it two wins in three attempts in Kochi.
With potentially their most creative player, Josue Currais, being slotted into the left-back position, the Blasters in a 4-4-2 formation chose to play the long ball game. Antonio German was the principal target, with Duckens Nazon playing just off him. The idea created excitement in the opening minutes, with defenders launching the ball up-field at the first opportunity. In the seventh minute, Nazon turned inside the box off a cross from Farukh Chaudhary but his volley flew over.
But it was Atletico who were finding more space, especially down the flanks. ‘Josu’, eager to move forward, was caught out of position on several occasions with Sameehg Doutie running him ragged. Right back Pratik Chaudhary too found the pace and trickery of Javi Lara and Iain Hume tough to contain. And it was off such a break that Hume opened up the home defence with a cut back for Helder Postiga in the sixth minute, but the former Portugal international missed.
The Blasters’ new midfield pairing of Elhadji Ndoye and Mehtab Hussain too allowed space for the visitors, with skipper Borja Fernandes being the enforcer again. The hosts’ best chance fell to German in the 27th minute, off a counterattack when Nazon danced past defenders on the left to pull the ball back, only for the Englishman to miscue. Atletico struck eight minutes into the second half when Lara’s shot deflected off Sandesh Jinghan.