Indian Super League 2019-20, Kerala Blasters vs ATK: Hits and Flops
In front of their huge fanbase, Kerala Blasters kicked off the 2019-20 Indian Super League season with a 2-1 win over ATK at the Kaloor Stadium in Kochi. Blasters skipper Bartholomew Ogbeche was the star of the night with his two goals in the first half.
Even though the scoreline might reflect a Kerala win, it was not all plain sailing for the team as ATK went 1-0 up early in the game through a scorching Carl McHugh goal in just the 6th minute. Javi Hernandez's free-kick from outside the box was cushioned in superbly by Agus Garcia and his defensive partner McHugh struck a sweet volley to collect an early goal.
After that, ATK dominated the proceedings and had plenty of chances but Hernandez and Roy Krishna failed to make the most of those opportunities. The two-time champions were also hard done by the referee Srikrishna when Michael Soosairaj was brought down by Sergio Cidoncha in the penalty box. The entirety of the ATK appealed in unison for a penalty but the referee waved it on.
ATK's failure to put away their chances was rubbed in when Kerala skipper Ogbeche put his team in the lead in the space of 15 minutes. The first goal came off a penalty when Pronay Halder tugged Jairo Rodrigues' shirt and Ogbeche was predictably clinical by slotting the ball into the bottom-right corner.
Defensive mid-fielder Halder made another mistake when he failed to clear a cross from Prasanth Karuthadathkuni and Ogbeche came in with an instinctive strike to send the Kerala fans into delirium.
Suddenly ATK were behind against the run of play when they went into the changing rooms at half-time and the scenario didn't change, as Kerala only grew into the game and limited the visiting side's chances. In the second half too, ATK were unfortunate to miss out on a penalty when a long-range strike from Sehnaj Singh struck Moustapha Gning's right-hand, but yet again, the referee made an error and waved play on.
In the end, Kerala would have been delighted to start the season with three points in their bag with an industrious performance.
Flop - Roy Krishna
The first match of the season didn't go as planned for the Fijian striker, Roy Krishna who came into the ISL with huge expectations from his side. However, the forward failed to live up to those expectations as he failed to put away a couple of easy chances.
Even though Krishna's pace troubled the Kerala defence, his poor first touches cost himself and the team a goal in each half. In the last 15-20 minutes, Krishna's impact only reduced further and this could have been due to unfamiliarity with Indian conditions. David Williams and he will need to adapt quickly to Indian football, as they were even pushed away off the ball quite easily by the Blasters' youngsters.
If Krishna can correct his first touch and make better decisions, he can certainly be backed to have a good season with ATK.
Hit - Bartholomew Ogbeche
The most effective man on the pitch, Bartholomew Ogbeche proved why he was handed the captain's armband and is also coach Eelco Schattorie's most trusted player. Even though he didn't get too many opportunities to score owing to Kerala's wingers Halicharan Narzary and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni's average crossing, Ogbeche was at the top of his game. Putting away the penalty which gave the side their first goal was routine work for Ogbeche, but it was his second goal that exhibited his quality in full measure.
Pronay Halder's mistake while clearing the ball made it a tad easier for the Nigerian international to collect the ball in position, but it was by no means an easy chance to convert. Ogbeche still made it look simple by striking the ball well past Arindam Bhattacharya, which proved to be the decisive goal in the end.
In the second half, the striker didn't have too much to do as ATK were clearly under pressure and needed to raise their game. However, the first-half performance from Ogbeche was enough to ensure that he helped his side get off the blocks in fine fashion.
#Flop - Pronay Halder
Pronay Halder had the chance to make a positive impression in the presence of head coach Igor Stimac but his performance wasn't up to the mark by a long way in this game.
Halder was guilty of playing a part in conceding both the goals and his performance wouldn't have pleased ATK coach Antonio Lopez Habaz one bit. The 25-year-old tugged Kerala defender Jairo Rodrigues' shirt to concede a penalty in the 30th minute, and this saw the Blasters scoring the equaliser.
Fifteen minutes later, Pronay Halder almost swung himself to the ground while trying to clear a low cross from Blasters' right-winger Prasanth Karuthadathkuni. The half an inch that was provided by that poor clearance was converted by the clinical Ogbeche to make it a night to forget for Halder.
#Hit - Jeakson Singh
Handed a surprising starting spot, 18-year-old Jeakson Singh made the most of his opportunity and even went onto bag the Emerging Player of the Match award. After being slotted in as a defensive mid-fielder, Jeakson regularly dropped back to form a back three alongside Giani Zuiverloon and Jairo Rodrigues.
The youngster put in a supremely confident performance and showed that he wasn't put under pressure by the huge Kochi crowd or the star foreigners in the opposition line-up. Using his height and physique superbly, Jeakson wasn't hesitant to put in necessary tackles as he also added more defensive cover for his side.
Jeakson is already a well-known name in the Indian footballing community due to his historic goal in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 but this season may very well be the one which will see him coming off age.
#Flop - Sergio Cidoncha
Coming into the Kerala Blasters side on the back of a fantastic debut season while representing Jamshedpur FC, there were a lot of expectations on Sergio Cidoncha to add some much-needed creativity and steel into the Blasters midfield. However, his performance left a lot to be desired as he was arguably positioned a little too deep for him to make a big impact.
However, a player of his quality should have adapted to the new role, yet he was guilty of giving away possession on many occasions. Apart from some poor passing, he was also pushed away easily by the ATK forwards.
This did not help the Blasters' cause as they were unable to stitch together any meaningful passes and create opportunities for Ogbeche to capitalise on. However, the Blasters fans will be hoping to see an improved performance from their star player in the next game.