The Blasters’ assistant takes charge of the game against the Stallions who are one of the form teams of the league.

Kerala Blasters welcome FC Pune City at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Thursday in the Indian Super League (ISL). The two-time finalists were on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bengaluru FC in their last encounter and are now languishing at the bottom half of the table. They are, however, unbeaten against the Stallions at home and will hope that the record stays when they host Pune.

Following the departure of Rene Meulensteen, speaking to the media was Kerala’s assistant coach Thangboi Singto. He started off by highlighting the importance of their next fixture. “For us, what is important is tomorrow’s match and we want points from that game,” he stated. “So, let’s prepare as always as best as we can. Tomorrow is a new day, a new dawn and hopefully, we can produce something good for everyone, especially the fans.”

He further added, “I think in terms of planning there is not much. I think it is important for us to score and not concede. Well you all know, other teams results are not our lookout. We have to pull up our socks, hold our head high and produce football that is beneficial for all at Kerala Blasters.”

He also gave an update on the injuries in the squad. “Most probably, we won’t have (Nemanja) Lakic-Pesic, but the rest of the guys are fit,” he revealed. “We don’t have much to worry on those lines. Pritam (Singh) is still out with a shoulder injury but (Dimitar) Berbatov is ready. He’s one player that the team needs. He knows the importance of winning games.”

The Blasters had missed the presence of local boy CK Vineeth in their previous fixture, and his addition to the squad after sustaining an injury still remains in doubt. “We just need to assess him (Vineeth) properly,” Singto said. “He is a boy who wants to contribute every single time; we know how important he is. He’s started training but we have to assess him, maybe today or tomorrow. We have to make the right call.”

Before signing off, he also thanked the passionate Kerala fans for their continued support, irrespective of the outcomes. “We are very grateful to the fans – the yellow army or the Manjappada faithful, as they have always been there to support us. The atmosphere is electric, something which you can never experience in India. We’re very lucky. For them to smile and be happy, we have to perform. That we’ve tried in every match. We need to step up and perform better and hopefully tomorrow is the day for us,” he concluded.

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The Stallions have garnered maximum points from their travels so far, and come on the back of two successive wins. However, they would be wary of the fact that they have never won in Kochi in the league’s history, a record they would want to do away with.

With Ranko Popovic still serving his touchline suspension, speaking to the media during the pre-match press conference was Pune’s assistant coach, Vladica Grujic. He began by acknowledging the Stallions’ mindset. “We work every day,” Grujic stated. “Day by day things are getting better and better. I think, during the game this team does not need a coach. We want to play a strong game tomorrow to win. Popovic is very important for the team, and the team knows what he wants and what we want and these are very important things.”

He also went on to laud the two Pune goalkeepers, Vishal Kaith and Kamaljit Singh. “Vishal (Kaith) and Kamaljit (Singh) are two very, very good goalkeepers,” the Serbian said. “Vishal improved with every game. This is very important as with a goalkeeper like that, the team is stronger. We expect good performance tomorrow from everyone. We are coming here not for a vacation, we’re coming here to win something.”

Before leaving, Grujic also threw light on how they were assessing their opponents of the night. “Kerala are a little bit unlucky,” he opined. “I watch every game and I see a really strong team. I expect Kerala to play with long balls tomorrow and then try to win the second ball. I think they cannot change their style in one day. I expect a very strong opponent. We must be stronger and win.”