The interim head coach of the Yellow Army answered questions following their draw against Chennaiyin FC.
On Sunday, Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC shared the spoils, as they played out a 1-1 draw in the Indian Super League (ISL). It was the Marina Machans who took the lead through Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev, but Gary Hooper scored from the spot to equalize for the Yellow Army. In the final few minutes, Chennaiyin played with 10 men due to Enes Sipovic’s red card, but Ishfaq Ahmed and his boys could not capitalize on it.
After the final whistle, Ahmed spoke in the post-match press conference. He claimed that his team did enough to earn a win against the two-time champions.
“All credit to the boys for this draw, they stood up for the challenge and did enough to win the match. The Chennaiyin goalkeeper made some fabulous saves and that’s why the end result is a draw. Nevertheless, we will take it (the result) as it is and continue working hard for the next game (against NorthEast United),” he said.
Changes post Kibu Vicuna’s exit
Kerala Blasters had very little time to recover from the hapless 4-0 loss against Hyderabad FC last week, followed by the parting of ways with Kibu Vicuna, who was their head coach. Ishfaq Ahmed admitted that there was not much time to change things after the Spaniard left the club.
“Well, there was not much time. I wanted to do some fine-tuning in our defence and the primary aim was to keep a clean-sheet,” he said, before adding, “Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it. Despite it being so, I think the boys responded very well.”
The 37-year-old also heaped praise on the Blasters stars for keeping themselves motivated and not losing their way in the game, despite not having much to play for. “Motivation is something which the team needs right now because we aren’t qualifying for anything. That said, the players kept themselves motivated and proved that they are professionals,” he said.
Lallianzuala Chhangte’s performance
Lallianzuala Chhangte has been one of the best Indian players so far this season in the ISL. Before the match, it was known that he could create problems for the Kochi outfit. Hence, the tactician was asked if the team had any specific plan in mind for the 23-year-old.
“Of course, we had a plan for him,” he agreed. “We knew – and in fact, all the teams also know – that whenever they receive the ball in midfield, they will switch to the other end. I think, even though he created plenty of impact in the initial 10 minutes, he couldn’t do anything in the remaining 80. Lalruatthara and Prasanth had a fabulous game. They closed him out well.”
Need to show character
The former Indian international also spoke on how showing character was important for both teams, especially for Kerala Blasters, as they had conceded an early goal.
Speaking about the comeback, he said, “I think it was all about their character. We have been talking about this a lot these days. If we take the lead, we need to hold on to it. If we are behind on the scoreline, we need to show a different character to score and come back into the match. I am happy (with the comeback).
“Surely, we did a little bit of fine-tuning. We knew that their defence was weak, especially in 1v1s, so we had Jordan (Murray) upfront and the plan was to feed him with as many chances as possible,” he revealed.
Gary Hooper‘s performance
Former Celtic, Norwich City and Wellington Phoenix striker Hooper found the back of the net and saved a point for the Yellow Army. Ishfaq praised the striker in the post-match press conference, after it emerged that this was also the 200th league goal of his career.
He said, “I think he is fabulous. I personally feel he is one of the best in the league. You have already seen his versatility, as he plays as the No.10, although he is actually a No.9. His first touch is fabulous and so is the way he controls the game.
“He made quite a few passes as well, to Jordan. I’m sure you’ve already seen some of the wonderful goals that he has scored so far in the league. From the first 4-5 matches, he has improved immensely,” the coach further added.
Up next, the two-time ISL finalists face playoffs hopefuls NorthEast United in their final game of the league this season. A win against the Highlanders will not only result in a positive conclusion to their own campaign, but will also prevent their opponents from reaching the top four.
But Ishfaq Ahmed is not keen to spoil anyone’s party. “I am not looking to do that. We are just looking forward to win, take the three points and finish on a high. I hate losing, so we will be trying our 100% to win those three points,” he signed off.