ISL 2018-19: Kerala Blasters can turn around poor form and make late push for playoff spot, says head coach David James
David James' Kerala Blasters travel to Mumbai on Sunday to face an in-form Mumbai City FC, who are currently on a seven-match unbeaten streak that has seen them rise to second place in the Indian Super League table
David James' Kerala Blasters come knocking at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday as they face an in-form Mumbai City FC, who are currently on a seven-match unbeaten streak that has seen them rise to second place in the Indian Super League table.
Kerala, on the other hand, have won just once in the league, beating ATK 2-0 on opening night two months ago, and are currently languishing in eighth place, a rather long way down from the playoff spots. Whilst qualification for the knockout rounds is still mathematically possible, it would require Kerala's form to do a sudden and rather drastic one-eighty, a fact that James seems to be acutely aware of.
"Obviously, not winning is difficult for the team. I don’t think we deserve to be on a ten-match winless run. I do think we’ve been a little hard-done by, with regards to a couple of results that didn’t go our way," said James.
Despite amassing just nine points in 11 games, James believes it's not beyond the team's capabilities to make a late push for the top-four, saying, "we’re still mathematically in it, and we still believe we can get thirty points, which should be enough for us to qualify. The fact that we believe that puts the pressure on us, because we need to win every match, we can’t get away with a draw."
Kerala's first match against Mumbai this season ended in a 1-1 draw, with Pranjal Bhumij scoring a screamer deep into added time to salvage a draw despite Kerala leading for much of the contest. "We were just three minutes away from winning and picking up three points when we played against them for the first time this season, but an absolute wonder-strike was enough for them to get a draw," said James.
The former England goalkeeper was also quick to add that bad luck has had a significant part to play in some of Kerala's losses, saying, "we’ve been close in every game. The biggest margin we’ve lost by is against Goa, which was a 3-1 defeat. It’s frustrating, when decisions go against you, but we need to be realistic. In most of these matches, if we’d scored more goals, it wouldn’t have mattered if a goal went against us."
Kerala's poor run of form has seen attendances dwindle, with recent home matches seeing just over 8,000 fans in attendance. Traditionally, the Blasters are one of the best supported teams in the league, but boycotts from major fan clubs over the results have left the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium looking empty, something that James understands as a football supporter.
"Fans will do what they want to. If your team has won only one match, I can understand their frustration. It’s not for me to tell people what to do. What I can say is that even though we’ve had much better attendances, our lowest is around 9,000. That’s more than Mumbai City FC will get if they fill out their entire stadium tomorrow," said James.
James' counterpart Jorge Costa has seen his Mumbai side play an exciting brand of football which has resulted in a good spell of results, but the Portuguese manager is still wary of Kerala Blasters, saying, "tomorrow, in my opinion, it will be the most difficult game until now. We are the last ones to play before the break. We’re up against a team which is comfortable. They have nothing to lose. We’re in a difficult moment, because we play just before the break. We need to be focused."
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Mumbai City have collected 22 points from nine games to be on top of the table. ATK Mohun Bagan are two points adrift of Mumbai City with six wins, two draws and one loss.
An acrobatic first-half effort from Cleiton Silva (24th) handed Bengaluru the lead before substitute Lalthathanga Khawlhring netted an equaliser (73rd) for Kerala Blasters.
The match saw both teams failing to convert clear-cut chances. That Odisha had three shots on target while Chennaiyin managed just two exemplified how much both sides cancelled out each other.