ISL 2016: FC Pune City eked out draw against Kerala Blasters, but scoring goals still a problem - Firstpost
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ISL 2016: FC Pune City eked out draw against Kerala Blasters, but scoring goals still a problem

A draw at home is far from an ideal result, but when you're in a sticky patch in your own backyard as FC Pune City were, anything but a loss amounts to a good result.

FC Pune City's Mohamed Sissoko vying for the ball against Kerala. Image courtesy: Twitter/ @IndSuperLeague

FC Pune City's Mohamed Sissoko vying for the ball against Kerala. Image courtesy: Twitter/ @IndSuperLeague

There was talk about FC Pune City's schedule for ISL-3 that had them playing at home in five of their opening seven matches, but playing at their small-sized Balewadi Stadium has rather been a disadvantage for the Stallions in the early days of the season.

And regular business seemed to have resumed when Cedric Hengbart put Kerala Blasters ahead as early as in the third minute of the match on Monday. But Pune hung on, and made a fist of the contest to come away with a 1-1 draw - their first point at home this season. It was a fair reflection of how the match panned out.

The Stallions were forced into a change just before kick-off when Pitu was replaced by Bruno Arias, and that perhaps altered their dynamics.

With centre back Eduardo suspended, coach Antonio Lopez Habas named a back four comprising four Indians. There was also a change upfront, as Dramane Traore replaced the ineffective Anibal Zurdo, while Arata Izumi also made a return to the starting eleven which was set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

But early optimism quickly evaporated with Kerala's opener, as Pune reverted to being at their lacklustre worst while going forward. The away side were comfortable in possession, as the match was played at a pedestrian pace with neither team showing urgency, which helped the Blasters but was damning for Pune.

Jesus Tato was tenacious as usual, but the link-up play down the right suffered because of the lack of access at the centre caused by the absence of diagonal supporting movements as well as Kerala's discipline in midfield.

Rahul Bheke's long throw-ins were Pune City's best bet to create anything of note, along with crossed balls to Traore. The Stallions attempted 19 crosses in the match, without much joy, but their regular attempts at making life difficult for Kerala's experienced centre backs finally paid off when Mohamed Sissoko netted his first goal for the club.

In a match that lacked invention, it was perhaps fitting that both the goals were of a similar kind, stemming from the defending team's inability to deal with a second ball off a set-piece.

One of the smallest grounds in the ISL, the Balewadi Stadium offered its usual noise of continuous drum beats amid sporadic intervention by the crowd, an apt setting for a match lacking an aggressive streak.

It was a relaxed affair in between the two goals; Kerala happy to play the ball around with Pune knocking on their door a bit too gently. Although the match exploded into life after Sissoko's 68th minute leveller, the fact that no more goals were seen was testament to the defensive solidity of both teams.

Both Gouramangi Singh and Dharmaraj Ravanan looked assured and repelled most of the Kerala attacks throughout the 90 minutes, a positive sign that showed the Stallions could afford to play without Eduardo at the back.

Traore offered a greater, more physical threat upfront than what we have seen from Pune City this season. The inability to convert chances into goals remains an issue, but the 34-year-old Traore showed enough to move up the striker's pecking order.

A bit more creativity and aggression would be welcome, given the sterile nature of this match, and Habas' return to the dugout for their next match - at home against Chennaiyin on Sunday - could just be the fillip Pune City need to kick-start their push for the playoffs.

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