KOCHI: Kerala Blasters are back in the top four and back in contention for a playoff spot and this could be an indication that the fight for the top four will go down to the wire.
In the eleven-team league, it is hard for any team to open a substantial points gap and with as many as nine teams still with a chance to qualify inside the top four, competition is fierce and we can expect a photo finish to the league stage.
After every matchday, the table has a different outlook and with Blasters winning 1-0 against East Bengal on Monday, the likes of Mumbai City and Bengaluru FC have been pushed outside the playoff spots.
This is where injury management and avoiding suspensions would be key for the teams. Blasters were without key personnel for this assignment with the likes of Harmajot Khabra, Marko Leskovic and Hormpiam Ruivah all unavailable but they managed to secure a clean sheet, and more importantly the three points.
The winning goal was scored by Enes Sipovic in the 49th minute as they got back to winning ways after the chastening defeat against Jamshedpur in their last match. Tougher tests await with Blasters set to face ATK Mohun Bagan, Hyderabad FC, Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City.
All these teams are firmly in contention for a playoff berth and there is no room for error and that sets up an exciting finish for the league.
After many seasons where Blasters found themselves in the lower half of the table and fighting for the wooden spoon rather than the top honours, they would welcome being in the heat of the battle as they look to finish inside the top four since the 2016 edition where they had finished second in the eight-team league.
That looks like a distant memory now as the league has become more competitive and with the addition of more teams.
Blasters are enjoying a stellar campaign and it remains to be seen if they can try to fight for the ISL shield which will give them a taste of the AFC Champions League next season. But getting into the top four in itself would be a step in the right direction after many seasons in oblivion.
Against East Bengal, the yellow brigade struggled to create opportunities as they had to settle for a solitary goal which came from a corner as Sipovic nodded it in.
It was a nervy finish as East Bengal looked to push for an equaliser and trouble Blasters but they held on. The challenge gets tougher from here on for Ivan Vukomanovic's side.