Delhi Dynamos, Kerala Blasters, ATK and NorthEast United were the teams who struggled in the initial half of the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL). The performances of these teams were poor and often showcased a general lack of inspiration in attack and poor defensive organisation.
With pressure mounting as the league entered a decisive phase, it was no surprise to see that three of these four teams sacked their coaches and opted for a change in management. Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United were the first to pull the trigger while ATK followed suit during the last week in January.
While ATK's interim boss Ashley Westwood has not fared well in his first two games in charge, Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United have experienced an upturn in results.
After sacking Rene Meulensteen, Kerala Blasters have played six games under David James and have won 10 points which have included three wins and a draw. They had managed only seven points from seven games under Rene Meulensteen.
Now, with 17 points from 13 games, they are two points off FC Goa in fourth spot though the Gaurs have played two matches less. While reaching the playoffs is still a tough proposition, the Tuskers are well placed to capitalise if any of the current top-four teams slip up.
And it is clear that David James has managed to lift the mood of gloom and doom that surrounded the Kochi-based outfit after a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Bengaluru FC at home, after which Meulensteen was sacked.
James reinstated Iain Hume, a huge crowd favourite in Kochi and a proven performer in the ISL, in attack and the Canadian delivered five goals in the last six games including a fine hat-trick against Delhi Dynamos. It also helped that Courage Pekuson was moved into an advanced role rather than being deployed in midfield where he had to be mindful of his defensive duties as well earlier in the season.
While there has not really been a huge improvement in the playing style of the Blasters, the goals have come and the results have certainly improved which is all that matters in the long run.
NorthEast United, after the acrimonious sacking of Joao de Deus, appointed former Chelsea manager Avram Grant as their Technical Advisor and handed him the first team duties with former East Bengal coach Eelco Schattorie assisting him.
To his credit, Grant masterminded two wins in four games since he took charge and those wins have come against top-four sides - FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC. In comparison, the Highlanders mustered only four points from seven games under De Deus.
Their attack had been toothless under the Portuguese tactician, with most of their forwards misfiring big time. But Grant has managed to coax goals out of them and has now also brought replacements in to strengthen his foreign contingent.
Still, the chances of NorthEast United making the playoffs are remote but there is no doubting that their playing style and performances have improved by leaps and bounds. If they were considered, along with Delhi Dynamos, to be the punching bags this season, the mishaps suffered by FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC at Guwahati shows Grant has managed to dispell such an image within a short period of time.
The two teams now face an important run of games as the race for top-four heats up and Kerala Blasters will hope to start with a win against FC Pune City on Friday while NorthEast United travel to FC Goa.