The southerners fell victim to three late goals and were knocked out by NEROCA on Friday night.
The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar lay witness to a brilliant turnaround in just 12 minutes as Hero I-League 2017-18 runners-up NEROCA FC came back from two goals down to defeat Kerala Blasters FC 3-2 on Friday. After Victor Pulga and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni had given the Blasters a comfortable lead, Jean Joachim, Aryn Williams and Felix Odili Chidi netted three within 12 minutes to ensure NEROCA booked the last quarter-final berth of the Hero Super Cup.
In the post-match conference, head coach David James was present from the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) club’s side to address the media. When asked what according to him was the reason behind Kerala losing the plot in the last 20 minutes, the 47-year old inferred, “I think it is fair to say that the performance up to 70 minutes was fantastic. I would like to see the offside goal again; I am not too sure about that. Obviously, with the penalty, I am not too sure what constitutes a penalty anymore. Some of the refereeing decisions were difficult. But these things happen in football. But when your team plays well and you end up losing the game, it is tough to take.”
The Englishman then went on to praise his squad, while highlighting that knockout fixtures can be harsh at times. “There were 12 or 13 players who were excellent today,” he shared. “The performance for 70 minutes was excellent and we played some of the best football this season. We prepared properly and trained hard for this game. Cups are funny things, you only lose once and it can be quite frustrating. But we scored two goals against the best defence in the I-League, so there are a lot of positives to take from this game.”
James also admitted that injuries sustained by captain Sandesh Jhingan and Courage Pekuson in the course of the match affected their gameplay, before laying focus on what his views were on the season. “I always ask my players to try their best. Prasanth has improved a lot and he looks like a different player. The standard of football has improved drastically over the last four years,” he said.
From the winning camp, NEROCA’s head coach Gift Raikhan was present to take questions from the media and looked visibly delighted. He started off by explaining why his team were having difficulties to find a footing in the first half, “My first half plan was not successful. The three midfielders did not have space to play. I stretched the five midfielders in the second half and thus, we had more space.”
He further elaborated on what strategy he applied to ensure NEROCA still had a chance after going two goals down. “Well, I knew that they would play well because they have good players, and they have the confidence to play against the I-League teams, especially NEROCA. But I knew the weakness of Kerala Blasters. My point was to stay calm. We had our chances. After the first goal, we knew we would come back,” he stated confidently.