Depleted Kerala Blasters change tack to grab first win in ISL 2020-21

With injuries forcing head coach Kibu Vicuna to make a slew of changes, Kerala Blasters came up with an inspired show to beat Hyderabad FC.

By Naveen Peter ·

Coming into their Indian Super League (ISL) tie against Hyderabad FC on Sunday, Kerala Blasters FC were languishing at the ninth spot in the 11-team points table. Winless and struggling to find a winning combination, the Blasters had to do something special to overturn this script.

But Kerala Blasters head coach Kibu Vicuna had major worries. His regulars like Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone and Gary Hooper were nursing injuries and it was tough to put a decent playing XI against a Hyderabad team that had surprised many with their performance this season.

The Spaniard chose to gamble and the move paid off as a determined Kerala Blasters won 2-0 at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, Goa.

A make-shift team

In the absence of the usual centre-back pairing of Costa Nhamoinesu and Bakary Kone, the Blasters relied on an all-India duo of Abdul Hakku and Sandeep Singh.

Though the stoppers looked jittery throughout the match, the stopper backs did well to ward off the Hyderabad attack led by Aridane Santana, who has four goals in his six games so far.

Vicuna praised Hakku and Singh for their dogged effort.

“I am very happy with the performances of Abdul Hakku, Sandeep (Singh) and Jordan (Murray),” the 49-year-old Vicuna said in the post-match press conference.

“I am satisfied because we played well against a team that is doing very well this season. We played a good match and we deserved to win tonight. We are happy because in the last 2-3 weeks, we are training better and we are seeing the results of these (training sessions).”

Others who shone brightly for Kerala Blasters on a sweltering Sunday evening were India’s 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup players Rahul KP and Jeakson Singh.

While the 20-year-old full back Rahul KP kept a hawk’s eye on the much-talked-about Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh put up a fine show in the midfield along with Vicente Gomez.

“We lost because the players of Kerala Blasters FC played with a better attitude. If the attitude of the players is (not up to the mark), it’s impossible to win. Especially in the opening minutes, they showed a better attitude than our team,” the Hyderabad FC head Manuel Marquez said, pointing out the difference between the two teams. 

Change in tactics

Their match against Hyderabad FC also saw Kerala Blasters change tack. They shelved their counter-attacking style to putting pressure on a team that relies heavily on protecting its territory. 

“It was important (to press high) because Hyderabad is a team that plays well from behind. We pressed well and created some difficulties for Hyderabad especially because they have good players playing from behind,” the head coach explained.

Rahul KP (left) was on top of his game as he barely allowed any attacks from his side of the pitch. Photo: ISL Media

Last season in the I-League, the Kibu Vicuna-coached Mohun Bagan endured a 4-2 loss to fellow title challengers Churchill Brothers before going on a 14-match unbeaten run to wrap up their second I-League crown.

Though it’s hard to say if Vicuna can engineer a similar run with Kerala Blasters, Sunday’s match gave enough hint that the Blasters can challenge the best if they play to their strengths.