The visitors still have a long shot at a playoffs place.
Defending champions ATK have been ravaged by injuries and left with just five foreign players as they make the last attempt in the season to do the improbable and stay alive in the Hero Indian Super League.
ATK interim coach Ashley Westwood has lost all three games since the departure of Teddy Sheringham but the former Bengaluru FC coach is believing in the mathematical possibility that should they win all the remaining matches, they will move to 27 points and have a “fighting chance” of making it to the top four.
Their next clash is against Kerala Blasters at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata, on Thursday and he will have to do without three foreign players as star striker Robbie Keane, Portuguese midfielder Zequinha and Wales midfielder David Cotterill have all been ruled out.
“We are still with a fighting chance. We can get to 27 points. There is little bit (of) hope. As professional footballers, they need to play for their careers and new contracts. You don’t need motivating,” said Westwood, adding that players should be hungry to be part of the next edition of ISL.
ATK lost their last league clash against leaders Bengaluru FC despite their rivals having a player sent off in the second session. Westwood said they “completely dominated” Bengaluru FC and had “chance after chance” but paid a price for not converting any of the chances that came their way.
Kerala Blasters will be equally difficult particularly since the visitors now have a chance of qualification to the play-offs after scripting two victories in a row, including the last one against FC Pune City where CK Vineeth scored a last-gasp stunner.
Kerala Blasters are placed sixth with 20 points from 14 matches and have just four matches left to be played.
“We cannot falter. We need nothing less than four more wins from the remaining fixtures,” said Kerala Blasters coach David James.
James took over the team midway into the season and has turned the team’s fortunes wining 13 points from the last seven matches. Under Rene Meulensteen, Kerala had only seven points from the first seven matches.
“There is lot of talent in Kerala (Blasters). I am genuinely surprised that they were not higher up the table (when I took charge). I am fortunate to have such a group of players who are thoroughly enthusiastic to do well,” said James.
Kerala Blasters will miss the services of their captain Sandesh Jhingan who remains suspended after accumulating four yellow cards. According to the coach, they will also miss some players due to injuries and are waiting to know from the organisers if they can replace an injured foreign player with an Indian footballer, probably hinting at Iain Hume’s knee injury sustained in last game and may not be available for the rest of season.
ATK 5 – 1 Kerala Blasters FC (3 draws)
Ashley Westwood will probably go with the 4-4-2 formation, allowing enough movement in the midfield to aid both attack and defence.
Goalkeeper: Debjit Majumder
Defenders: Keegan Pereira, Jordi Montel, Tom Thorpe, Prabir Das
Midfielders: Shankar Sampingiraj, Conor Thomas, Rupert Nongrum, Jayesh Rane
Forward: Robin Singh, Martin Paterson
ATK’s interim head coach on the team’s approach to the fixture: “In football, whether you play to win in training or whether you play to win on a field, for me it’s second nature. That’s the kind of mentality we are trying to instil to these players. For me, you have to motivate and win football matches and I’m sure they will be fine tomorrow.”
David James is likely to counter with his own 4-4-2 formation, to provide balance in the gameplay on either end.
Goalkeeper: Subhasish Roy
Defenders: Lalruatthara, Wes Brown, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Rino Anto
Midfielders: Courage Pekuson, Victor Forcada, Milan Singh, Jackichand Singh
Forwards: CK Vineeth, Iain Hume
Kerala’s head coach on the depth and quality in his squad: “There is a lot of talent in the team and I was genuinely surprised that they weren’t higher up in the table. This is a very talented squad. Give them the right environment and they can flourish. I am very fortunate to have such good players, not just talent-wise, but also thoroughly enthusiastic to get on and do well.”
- Kerala have never won against ATK in Kolkata
- The last time David James faced ATK was when he was a Kerala player, in the final of the inaugural edition of the league (ATK won 1-0 to be crowned as the champions)
- ATK have scored the least number of goals this season (8) till date
ATK 0 – 0 Kerala Blasters (11th November 2017 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi)
Form Guide (Last five matches)
ATK: L L L L W
Kerala Blasters FC: W W L L W