The two-time finalists lost their first match under David James when Jamshedpur bettered them 2 – 1 in their last fixture.
They will wary about their opponents who routed them 5 – 2 in the reverse fixture earlier this season. At the pre-match press conference, Kerala head coach David James addressed the media and shared his thoughts ahead of the crucial fixture.
The Englishman insisted that the Blasters are in a more positive mindset than they were the last time they faced the Gaurs. “We might have the same players, but I think we are a different team from the last time the two sides met.” James said. “They will be different themselves, in their own way. We have had a very good trip around India, but I was delighted with what I saw, even in defeat. If you like looking at goals, it seems to be a trend with Goa matches, but as with every team, there is an opportunity for us to counter that with our own qualities.”
The former Liverpool custodian explained how the team had prepared for the fixture. “The first thing in football is to understand why you lost or why you won,” he stated. “I wasn’t there at the time for the (previous Goa) game obviously, but our players understand what they are doing. All I can do is focus on preparing the players for the game from the videos, and their experiences having played against them. I am seeing improvement day by day among all the players, and that is what I ask for. The club is about trying our best, and we can’t guarantee results. Tomorrow, we are prepared to face a Goa side with a lot of talent, but we are not scared.”
James refused to blame any player for conceding goals in Kerala’s last match and instead lauded them for their recent performances. “I think the general play was good in the last game,” he inferred. “Obviously, I don’t want to see goals going in as a head coach, but at the same time I want to see players who are improving. Everyone will make a mistake. I am not blaming players for circumstances in games, but defensively, I have been happy with how we have been playing.”
Commenting on his team’s current mentality, James revealed: “They (the players) have been very positive. Now that I am working with the players, I see the improvement, and it will be nice to have a magic wand where everyone will be at their best straight away, but their best might not be enough sometimes. I have a group that is hungry to improve. The travel has been tough, and we have been missing out on the actual training time because of it. Now that we are back home in Kochi, it gives me a better chance to work with the players.”
The 47-year-old also singled out Iain Hume and praised his recent resurgence. “Hume is like a warrior,” James stated. “If he doesn’t have a bandage on his head, then we are worried! We have a very good environment with a good squad of players and support staff. Every individual improving makes the team a stronger force, and Hume is a part of it. I don’t think you can stop improving at any age unless you have physical issues. Hume is one player I am very thrilled to be working with.”
Speaking to the media during the pre-match press conference was Goa’s head coach Sergio Lobera, and he insisted that his side was not looking at past results. “What happened in the past is in the past, and we are not going to focus on that anymore,” he said referring to the 5 – 2 victory over Kerala earlier this season. “Regardless of whether we are playing at home or away from home, all the teams are equally balanced, so I don’t think it has much of a bearing in terms of the final result.”
The Gaurs have been free-scoring, but have not kept a clean sheet this season, regarding which Lobera said, “I think that even if we had conceded less goals, it wouldn’t have meant that we get more points. I think we are the team with the most amount of goals in the league. It is true that we haven’t kept a clean sheet so far and we need to improve defensively, but we are a team that plays with an attacking formation and mindset. We aren’t going to give up our offensive style of football, but we will try to find that defensive balance when we play tomorrow.”
The 41-year-old also mentioned that although Kerala had a new head coach, it will hardly change his team’s approach to the fixture. “Ultimately, you need to be strong regardless of how the other team is doing,” Lobera explained. “It is true that Kerala have a new manager, but we need to remain true to our philosophy and continue to do what we have been doing so far. We will be looking for the three points, and it is very important for us.”
The Spaniard further continued, “I think Kerala is a good team in general. I think they are a well-structured team with some really good players, and they have been showing that on the field too, lately. They have players with a lot of quality, and their attack is also very potent in terms of the quality they have up there. They are a strong team that we need to be wary of.”