The stuff of champions – Kerala Blasters succumb to second-half specialists ATK Mohun Bagan

ATK Mohun Bagan have once again showcased their winning mentality…

Going into Sunday’s Indian Super League (ISL) match against ATK Mohun Bagan, there were two things that Kerala Blasters had to focus on. Firstly, they needed a good start. And then they needed to defend their lead after the break.

Blasters knew that they statistically had the worst defence in the league and only East Bengal had conceded more goals in the second half of matches. To make things worse, they were going up against a side who had scored 12 out of their 13 goals this season after the break. And what seemed like the inevitable did happen. 

The Yellow Army got what they had wanted and it was Gary Hooper. The former Celtic forward continued his rise in stature as a strike partner to Jordan Murray and opened the scoring with a belter of a strike. He had a throwback moment to his Norwich City days when he collected a pass from right-back Sandeep Singh and sent a thunderous effort into the net. 

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Blasters had the opening goal they craved for and looked dominant enough to win the game in the first half itself had it been any other team. But Bagan have been experts at turning up the heat after the restart and so the dressing room team talk at half-time had to be about denying them a comeback. 

Blasters looked like they had gotten it right when they doubled the lead in the 51st minute. Sahal Abdul Samad’s corner kick was flicked into the box by Rahul KP and Costa Nhamoinescu headed it towards goal. Arindam Bhattacharya saved the headed effort but couldn’t deny the defender a goal as the latter smashed home the rebound. 

Gary Hooper Kerala Blasters

Bagan, like they have done multiple times this season, seemed to have higher gears to get into. Antonio Habas’ half-time changes – Manvir Singh and Pronay Halder in place of Sumit Rathi and Sheikh Sahil – made sense and the Mariners had more quality on the ball in the second half. 

Marcelinho, after clocking just over 300 minutes without scoring a goal for Odisha in the first half of the season, scored a well-taken goal on his debut for Bagan. He collected Manvir’s lob over the defence, made short work of make-shift centre-back Jeakson Singh by dribbling into the box and chipped Albino Gomes in style. 

A handball by Jessel Carneiro during a tussle with Manvir, who had also handled the ball, inside the box gifted Bagan a penalty after the half-hour mark and Roy Krishna stepped up and converted from the spot to equalise.

Blasters’ intensity dropped at the wrong time in the second half and a complacent defence eased Bagan’s challenge. The team collectively failed to get a grip on the proceedings and opened up a comeback path for the Mariners to explore. And they did it gleefully. Both the refereeing and Blasters’ defending left a lot to be desired. 

Three minutes from the end of normal time, Blasters’ calamitous defending allowed Krishna to score his second of the night and win the game for Bagan. Costa and Jessel both missed straightforward headed clearances and allowed Krishna to pick his spot at the bottom left corner of the net.

It remains a tight race for the play-offs despite the defeat but Blasters’ poor defending is what would have cost them top four if they miss out on that this season. 

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