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ISL 2018-19: Lack of cutting edge highlight Kerala Blasters' woes in draw against ATK

1:59 PM EST 1/26/19
Poplatnik Kerala Blasters
Kerala Blasters' 1-1 draw with ATK at Kochi exposed their frailties in the final third of the pitch....

Nelo Vingada’s tenure at Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL) did not get off to the most ideal of starts with the hosts leaving it late to snatch a draw against ATK at Kochi on Friday.

The 1-1 draw means the Blasters have not tasted victory for 12 matches running in the league. If Vingada had no idea about the magnitude of his task at hand with Kerala, he will most certainly have got a clearer picture after that showing against ATK.

All of Kerala’s familiar failings under previous coach David James were there to see on Friday as the hosts struggled to put the ball into the back of the net. It was the Blasters who were on the front foot for the majority of the tie with ATK content to defend deep and play on the break.

However, despite doing most of the running in midfield, Kerala floundered time after time in the final third through either shoddy finishing or a lack of creativity.

Matej Poplatnik was the catalyst for all good things Kerala did in the attacking third with the Slovenian forward’s industry, intelligent runs and clever movement causing plenty of problems to the ATK defence.

Despite his perseverance and industry, ‘clinical’ is not a word one would use to describe Poplatnik and that is where most of Kerala’s issues are. They lack a clinical striker capable of banging in the goals on a consistent basis and the loan of CK Vineeth to Chennaiyin FC is baffling in that regard. The less said about Slavisa Stojanovic's glaring miss the better.

Prasanth Karuthadathkuni and Seiminlen Doungel were lively figures on the wings for the hosts with the former whipping in some dangerous crosses. Unfortunately for the hosts, there was no one to get on the end of those delicious crosses and provide a decisive touch.

Sahal Abdul Samad was the orchestrator in midfield for Kerala with the youngster continuing to impress with his play. However, the defence again showed that it remains susceptible to soft goals with Edu Garcia’s free-kick sneaking underneath the Kerala wall for ATK’s goal.

A lack of cutting edge in attack and a soft underbelly at the back are the most evident flaws in the current Kerala side and Vingada will have his hands full in trying to provide a cure for them.

For Steve Coppell and his ATK, their game plan almost paid off with Garcia providing them with a late lead. Poplatnik’s equaliser will be a bitter pill to swallow but it ultimately was a result which mirrored their ambitions in the game.

The Kolkata side welcomed back Kalu Uche from his injury lay-off but the lack of match fitness was evident in the Nigerian’s display before he was eventually taken off. Garcia looked bright in the attacking role given to him and the Spaniard could turn out to be an excellent purchase.

Pronay Halder was a constant menace in midfield for ATK but it is in defence where their biggest strength is. John Johnson and Andre Bikey formed a formidable partnership at the heart of the defence on Friday while new recruit Pritam Kotal put in a decent shift at right back.

Coppell would have loved what he saw his defence against Kerala but he will be hoping Uche can rediscover his previous heights in the ISL. To get Manuel Lanzarote and Garcia working in tandem will be Coppell’s biggest challenge in the coming weeks and if he can manage to do that, ATK can make a strong late push for the play-off places.