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ISL 2018: Late goals help Kerala Blasters beat ATK for the first time since 2014

Kerala Blasters rode goals from Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic to beat ATK in the opening match of Indian Super League (ISL) 2018 on Saturday.

football Updated: Sep 29, 2018 23:24 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
ISL 2018,Kerala Blasters,ATK
Kerala Blasters’ Stojanovic and ATK players in action during the opening match of ISL 2018.(PTI)

Matej Poplatnik’s 77th minute goal, which made him the first scorer in ISL 2018, hinged on a fortuitous deflection but it was also proof of how perseverance pays. Between the fourth and the 12th minutes, the Kerala Blasters’ striker could have scored thrice against ATK in Kolkata on Saturday but was let down twice because he took an extra touch, having been unable to keep a free header on target before that.

It was also because the 26-year-old forward from Slovenia’s couldn’t control the ball that Blasters didn’t forge ahead after skipper Sandesh Jhingan found him with a raking pass. But Poplatnik was at the heart of most forays they made in a bid to somewhat set right their skewed record against ATK. This 2-0 win was Kerala Blasters’ first against ATK since 2014.

It was Poplatnik’s prompt from which Sahal Samad fired a long-ranger that needed Arindam Bhattacharya to really stretch and it was his corner that needed a goalline save from left back Sena Ralte after Nikola Krcmarevic had managed a strong header.

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Bhattacharya was among the changes rung in by new coach Steve Coppell. Debjit Majumdar is among the handful of players ATK retained, the goalkeeper being in the second season of a three-term deal. That the rest of the line-up would have a new look was a given and based on their opening night’s show, they have some settling down to do.

That was evident in the way central defenders John Johnson and Gerson Vieira let Poplatnik have a clear look on goal in the fourth minute and how Ralte was caught ball watching that led to Seiminlen Doungel getting a free header. And it showed in how uncomfortable Balwant Singh was as a wide right midfielder.

That said, ATK did have chances even though Kerala Blasters looked more cohesive as a team. A corner from skipper Manuel Lanzarote grazed the horizontal and a long-ranger from Everton Santos didn’t miss Dheeraj Singh’s goal by much. And like Doungel, Jayesh Rane failed to head into an empty goal after a corner-kick from Noussair Maimouni eluded everyone and fell to the ATK wide left.

It was minutes after Coppell implemented a double change in a bid to force the game --- getting in Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Kaul Uche for Noussair Mamouni and Balwant respectively --- that Poplatnik struck. A square pass from Courage Pekuson --- Kerala Blasters introduced their fifth foreigner only in the second half --- to Slavisa Stojanovic saw the Serbian forward attempt a pass which took a huge deflection of Vieira before Poplatnik struck. The insurance goal came in the 86th minute when Stojanovic turned Vieira this way and that before producing a delectable right-footer.

First Published: Sep 29, 2018 21:51 IST