From hope to despair: How injuries, fragile defence spoiled Blasters' party

Kerala Blasters
Kerala Blasters fell in the playoffs for the second successive season.

Kochi: The performance of Kerala Blasters in the 10th edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) can be likened to a decent movie with a poor second half. Blasters began the season on a high note and maintained consistency and competitiveness in the first half of the league phase. As their long-suffering fans started dreaming of winning the title, the ISL took a break for the inter-league Kalinga Super Cup. 

However, when the second phase of the season resumed on January 31, Blasters were simply a pale shadow of their former selves. Injuries to key players left the Yellow Brigade depleted and the coach was forced to rely on a bunch of young and inexperienced players to pull off victories in the business end.

As Blasters once again return empty-handed, going down to Odisha FC 1-2 in the playoffs, they have given their dejected fans something positive to look out for in the next season. One of the major takeaways for the team this season was the way the reserves stepped up to fill in the void left by the seniors. 

Injuries galore

Blasters have sustained over a dozen injuries this season, and it has severely hampered their progress in the ISL, especially in the second phase, and ruined any realistic hopes of the team winning the elusive title. Before each game, the coach and the management seemed unsure about the team combination, thanks to the growing list of injuries.

In fact, Blasters were crippled by injuries even before the start of the season. The first player to leave the camp with an injury was Australian forward Jaushua Sotirio, the first signing of Blasters for the 2023-24 edition. Blasters played their first couple of games without Greek striker Dimitrios Diamantakos and Croatian defender Marko Leskovic. 

While Uruguayan playmaker and captain Adrian Luna, Ghanaian forward Kwame Peprah, goalkeeper Sachin Suresh, and wing-back Aibanbha Dohling missed a major part of the season with injuries, midfielders Jeakson Singh, Vibin Mohanan, and Freddy Lallawmawma, and Nigerian forward Justine Emmanuel, who was recalled from his loan spell at Gokulam Kerala FC, were on the sidelines in many matches. In the playoff game against Odisha too, Blasters were hampered by an injury to their second-choice goalkeeper Lara Sharma as he was taken off field in a stretcher and replaced by Karanjit Sharma in the dying minutes.  

Future looks bright

While dealing with some serious setbacks, Blasters could offer their die-hard supporters a glimmer of hope. The season has witnessed the team management's investment in the youth system paying off. The performance of goalkeeper Sachin and Lakshadweep-born twins Aimen and Azhar, who marshaled the midfield in the absence of experienced players, augur well for the club's future. Another standout performer was Vibin, who is expected to be a part of the national side in the near future.

Fragile defence

Apart from an assortment of injuries to main players, it was Blasters' defensive frailty that led to their downfall in the second half of the season. In fact, the problem for the side is complicated by the lack of bench strength in defence. The weaknesses in the team's defensive organisation were on full display in the playoff match against Odisha. 

Going into the 10th Season, Blasters had added more firepower to their backline, bringing in experienced campaigners like Pritam Kotal and Prabir Das. However, both of them were not able to meet the expectations of the team management. The injury to the first-choice goalkeeper also had an adverse impact on their defensive solidity. 

The poor show by Leskovic, who struggled for form after returning from an injury layoff, also added to Blasters' woes in the defence. Besides, the side's extensive travels during the course of the season also affected their performance on the pitch.

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