ISL 2017-18: Kerala Blasters squander top-four opportunity in ATK draw

The Men in Yellow could have firmly affixed themselves in the top-four with a win on Thursday but errors at the back have complicated their prospects

After a 2-2 draw on Thursday away to ATK, Kerala Blasters coach David James was left to rue the mistakes his team committed at the back, which helped the home team snatch a draw despite trailing towards the end. 

The loss of two points in Kolkata might well come back to haunt the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned franchise at the end of the season. 

They could have staked a firm claim for a top-four spot with a win against ATK and also could have been placed inside the top-four for the first time this season, something which could have boosted their morale going into a crucial run of fixtures. 

The game in itself was error-strewn for most of the parts with the goals, apart from the Berbatov volley, stemming from mistakes. 

Kerala Blasters, without the services of Iain Hume and Sandesh Jhingan, opted to line up in a 3-5-2 which had Berbatov, Courage Pekuson and Milan Singh as midfielders. However, in the first half, what we saw was a genuine lack of quality from both sides. 

Dimitar Berbatov Kerala Blasters ATK ISL

ATK and Kerala Blasters failed to keep possession for extended periods of time and we witnessed several missed passes which looked to have been executed after taking a leaf out of some school-level football game. 

For ATK, Conor Thomas and Ryan Taylor did a decent job in midfield but the frontline was extremely wasteful, with Martin Paterson being the guilty party on many occasions. Kerala's defence had little protection from Milan Singh and the new-look three-man defence lacked any semblance of solidity despite playing a team which has the worst attacking record this season in the league. 

Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Wes Brown and Lalruatthara left quite a few spaces between themselves which was not punished quite as much, thanks to Paterson's profligacy. 

However, Kerala took the lead in the first half when three defenders just 'watched' the ball as it made its way to Baldvinsson and Iceland striker, who put in an energetic shift up front, headed home, thanks to a deflection. However, the Tuskers were not to be left behind when it came to defensive errors.

Thomas Thorpe ATK Kerala Blasters FC ISL 4 2017/2018

Ruatthara slammed a clearing header against Lakic-Pesic before Milan Singh played a poor pass to Berbatov which was pinched by Taylor who unleashed a long range effort which deflected off Ruatthara and went in. 

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Kerala had the lead back, only thanks to the individual brilliance of Dimitar Berbatov who showed his class with an inch-perfect volley from outside the box. Just when it looked like they might hold on to the lead, Taylor turned provider with a sumptuous cross which again caught the three-man Kerala defence off guard. Tom Thorpe glanced home to strike a dagger into Kerala Blasters' hearts. 

The Blasters had looked like pinching another great result in what has been a mini-renaissance from the team after Rene Meulensteen's exit but defensive errors have pegged them back. More worryingly, a lack of solidity in midfield seems to be their Achilles' heel.

For ATK, their season is all but over in terms of qualifying for the playoffs and much of the blame falls on Ashley Westwood, who was involved in the team building, and the team management's recruitment policy. They have not coped with their injuries and underwhelming performances from their Indian contingent has also come back to bite them!