Both teams played out an entertaining draw in what was a game of two halves.
Kerala Blasters played out a 1-1 draw against FC Pune City in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Thursday. Trailing to a Marcelinho goal in the first half, the two-time finalists responded with Mark Sifneos bagging the season’s 100th goal. This was also Kerala’s first match under new head coach David James, who recently took over from Rene Meulensteen.
The former Kerala Blasters marquee player spoke to the media during the post-match press conference. He started off by highlighting the developments in the past few days that led him to take over the reins at Kerala. “It’s been a very turbulent 48 hours,” the former Liverpool custodian revealed. “Obviously with the departure of Rene (Meulensteen), me coming in, the timing of all and contractual discussions, and then having to put a team together. I’ve got to thank all the coaches involved. I had to trust their judgement on picking the team.”
The Englishman further assessed his first game at the helm this season. “The first half was very difficult,” James admitted. “Pune showed their quality. It was obvious to see that we needed a bit more pace. I think we’ll be happy with the point but on another day, we’d win the game. Pune are top of the league now. We played a good second half against the best team in the league.”
He was also pleased with his managerial role and praised the passionate fans of Kerala. “There are lots and lots of positives for me as a manager,” he said. “I’m back in the position with some happy team players. It’s been a long while since I’ve been able to connect with the crowd. When we did something positive the crowd responded. I could see them singing on the way out, so they were happy with what they saw and that makes me happy as a manager. I joined the club on the basis that we have a good squad and that second half showed me that the talent is in there.”
He also explained as to what led the team to come up with a better performance in the second half. “The first half for me was a learning experience because I have not trained them,” the 47-year-old said. “I think for all the coaches involved, it’s been a very difficult situation. At half time, the conversation was good, the lads responded and I’m happy.”
When asked how he plans to pave the way forward this season for the men in yellow, he revealed, “The difficulty for me watching from afar is I can’t see what is happening on the pitch. We’ll look at the players in training. We had opportunities in the second half, there was so much positivity, it’s a just the case of tweaking it. We’ve got a big squad. In the way I look at it now, it’s just about the players and not about myself. I think one concern is a few opportunities we conceded in the first half. The whole emphasis is to make the players better.”
Before signing off, the former England International also praised captain Sandesh Jhingan, asserting his faith in him. “Sandesh is the team captain,” he stated. “In the three years, India have gone from 170th to 104th in the FIFA rankings and he’s part of that. He’s a captain so he has to lead by example. As I said, we go to the training ground and improve all the small things.”
Speaking to the media during the post-match presser was Pune’s assistant coach Vladica Grujic. When asked about his opinion on the outcome of the match, the Serbian stated, “When you look at the first half, you can kill the game with three goals, but this is football. Many big teams don’t score the goal. This is not normal but it happens. The second half was not to see but we won one point and we’re satisfied.”
He also praised his players for a good effort despite tiring down in the second period. “They (the players) looked tired but sometimes they want to bring 90 minutes,” he explained. “We spoke at the half-time to continue in the same way. They wanted to win 1-0 because we didn’t play well in the second half. This is a very difficult place to play. In Pune, it’s not so hot. I have to congratulate my team and the opponent because they showed big spirit in the second half. I think their coaching change brought this.”
Before wrapping up, he also highlighted the importance of teamwork in their game. “(Dimitar) Berbatov, Wes Brown or any big player, you cannot put one man to play against anyone. We have to have teamwork. We have to stay compact and do this well,” he concluded.