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ISL 2017-18: Sandesh Jhingan’s absence looms large as ATK host Kerala Blasters

Kerala Blasters will be without their skipper Sandesh Jhingan as they take on ATK in the Indian Super League (ISL) in Kolkata on Thursday.

football Updated: Feb 07, 2018 22:27 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Indian Super League,Sandesh Jhingan,ATK
ATK face Kerala Blasters in their Indian Super League (ISL) encounter in Kolkata on Thursday.(ISL)

Sandesh Jhingan is suspended from Thursday’s tie in the Indian Super League (ISL) in Kolkata but there couldn’t be a player more conspicuous by his absence than the Kerala Blasters and India central defender.

This is the first match the 24-year-old from Punjab is missing this term, having toted up four yellow cards. But his attitude had come under scrutiny earlier when sacked Kerala Blasters coach Rene Meulensteen alleged that Jhingan had been drinking till 4am after the 2-5 loss to FC Goa. He had also hinted at Jhingan deliberately underperforming against Bengaluru FC.

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Under the former Manchester United first-team coach, Kerala Blasters were eighth with seven points from as many games. Since taking over last month, James has helped the yellow shirts glean 13 points from their next seven games.

Asked about Jhingan’s attitude, James said: “When I arrived, he (Jhingan) was one of the people I spoke to because he is the captain. I explained to him that from the first year, I expected him to be the best Indian player to come out of the ISL. I told him I haven’t seen that.”

Stating that Meulensteen could have handled the situation better and not made it “international news”, James, 47, said: “Jhingan has travelled (here) because he can be a force in the change room. I have nothing bad to say about him and his conduct has been superb.”

James, who once held a Premier League record of 170 clean sheets and played 53 times for England, was Kerala Blasters’ player-coach in the first season when they lost 0-1 to ATK in the final.

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India captain Sunil Chhetri, who was here last week for the Bengaluru FC’s game against ATK, didn’t want to comment on the allegation but had said he knew Jhingan has a good work ethic.

“He is not naturally gifted like Mahesh Gawali and he wouldn’t have come this far without courage and hard work,” said Chhetri.

Keane out again

Ahead of the game between last season’s finalists, ATK’s interim coach Ashley Westwood said marquee Robbie Keane is injured again this time with a groin problem. Also injured and out is wide right midfielder David Cotterill. With wide left Zequinha ruled out due to a hamstring injury, ATK now have five imports available. “We have had 40-43 injuries this term which is incredible,” said Westwood.

The defending champions also have the worst goal-scoring record in ISL4 --- one less than Chhetri who has netted nine.

“But we dominated Bengaluru FC and they sit on top with a seven-point advantage. If we can play like that against Kerala, I will be happy,” said Westwood. He also said ATK star Iain Hume too may not play because of injury. “He’s travelled,” was all James would say about Hume’s availability.

First Published: Feb 07, 2018 22:27 IST