The Yellow Army qualified for the playoffs after a narrow win over the Highlanders…

Kerala Blasters FC became the last team to enter the semi-finals of Hero Indian Super League 2016 following their 1-0 win over NorthEast United FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday. CK Vineeth scored the only goal of the match in the 66th minute to secure maximum points for the Blasters, who ended the league stage of Hero ISL 2016 in second place with 22 points from 14 matches. The men in yellow now take on Delhi Dynamos FC in the semi-finals of Hero ISL 2016 with the first leg scheduled to be held on December 11 in Kochi.

Speaking to the media at the post-match press conference, Kerala head coach Steve Coppell shared his thoughts on the match. “We weren’t really under pressure and I would say we had the best chance in the first half with Duckens Nazon and I was glad we got to half time 0-0. I felt if we started the second half okay, then we would lift the game and both teams didn’t really know how to approach it, whether to throw men forward or whether to be secure, and well, the goal broke the ice and I felt the longer the game went, the better we were and stronger we were without being fluent and I just felt the pace and power we have up front would create a couple of chances and it did,” Coppell said.

Elaborating on his team’s lack of fluidity in midfield, Coppell said: “Well, I think it was a bit of a stalemate in midfield which probably suited them as their midfield probably had a little bit more power with Romaric and Rowllin Borges [around], and I did not want a game where we had an attack and then they had an attack and I don’t think that would have been so good for us and Ishfaq [Ahmed] did well in there around Romaric since he is a potential match winner, and Nicolas Velez not being available obviously helped our cause as he has been a terrific player for them this season and we knew that he was touch-and-go and him not being there I thought was a boost for us.”

The 61-year-old, however, was quick to bat away suggestions that the absence of Mehtab Hossain, who was serving an automatic suspension, affected their link-up play in midfield. “I don’t think it was missing and in the second half we hit them on the counter-attack a number of times and I think Mehtab has done a tremendous job for us this season playing with Azrack [Mahamat] and gives us a nice combination and losing Josu also harmed us and we had to adjust as well and Ishfaq came in and had a tough job to do against Romaric, it was always going to scrappy and it was always going to be ugly,” he said.

He continued: “I am thankful that we have got through after losing the first game [at home]. The supporters here have seen a number of victories and to finish second has been a tremendous achievement for everybody at the Blasters. I said to the players that listen to the crowd when you are tired and you will grow wings and I think on occasions a couple of players were tired and they grew wings, so a big thank you to the crowds.”

Coppell also shed light on what he told his players during the half-time interval. “I think the players were aware that the game was on a knife-edge and if we didn’t up our performance we could have easily lost it and they were demanding of each other to be a little bit sharper and better… I think there was improvement all around. There was also a mentality improvement,” he said.


Report and Photo Courtesy: ISL Media