KOCHI: THERE was a loud, carnival-like start to the sixth edition of the Indian Super League with a flashy opening ceremony and performances by celebrities. And among the guest list was BCCI president-elect Sourav Ganguly, also ATK’s co-owner, who made a quick appearance.
Once the music was off, the attention shifted to football as Kerala Blasters secured a laboured 2-1 win against ATK at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi on Sunday. Ogbeche was the hero for Blasters with two goals that helped them bag three points.
Last season, they won just one game at home the entire season and they look to be slowly exorcising the horrors of the 2018-19 campaign. Blasters coach Eelco Schattorie sprang a surprise by dropping Sahal Abdul Samad to the bench and handing 2017 U-17 World Cup goalscorer Jeakson Singh a debut. If benching KBFC’s most popular player was a big call, the absence of Sandesh Jhingan was down to injury. It wasn’t a full-strength Blasters line-up and a patched up pre-season left questions about the preparedness of the players.
ATK had an uninterrupted pre-season and looked ready, and they were 1-0 up in the sixth minute. Carl McHugh struck a sumptuous volley from a set-piece past the towering Bilal Khan. There was a role reversal with the visitors being the aggressors and the home side getting pushed against their own goal. ATK looked hungrier, quicker to the ball and intercepting passes.
Blasters, on the other hand, looked a bit leggy and lacking in creativity — the same problems that plagued them last season. It took only half an hour’s play for refereeing to be called into question.
Officiating came to the limelight again as Blasters were awarded a fortuitous penalty. The referee pointed straight to the spot after a pull by Pronay Halder on Jairo Rodrigues’ jersey. it couldn’t be clearly established from replays but skipper Bartholomew Ogbeche converted the penalty to make it 1-1.
ATK missed at least two gilt-edged chances before they were pegged back. Last season’s A-League top-scorer Roy Krishna missed a header from twelve yards out. But then, the momentum shifted.
Last season, Blasters lacked a goalscorer. This time, Ogbeche looks like the answer. The Nigerian converted a well-worked team goal as winger K Prasanth drilled a low cross into the box which was flicked back into the path of Ogbeche who neatly curled the ball in. Last season he scored 12 goals. Now he’s got two already.
ATK suffered an acute slump in the second half and Roy was wasteful while Javier Hernandez was not able to dictate play like he did in the first half. Blasters were defending resolutely and the absence of Jhingan was well compensated by Jairo and Gianni Zuiverloon. There was a sluggish end to the game as both teams laboured through the last quarter.