Kerala Blasters played two halfs of contrasting styles to earn a well fought 1-1 draw against visiting FC Pune City in the Hero ISL at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here on Thursday.
Dutchman Markos Sifneos cancelled out Brazilian Marcelinho’s 33 minute strike in the 73th minute to grab a morale boosting draw for the home side and started David James tenure as manager on a happy note.
After a pretty insipid performance in the first half, during which it was overwhelmed in all aspects by the visiting side, Kerala Blasters’ metamorphosis was stunning in the second half.
The introduction of Ugandan midfielder Keziron Kizito for a lacklustre Berbatov in the second half turned out to the game changer. Kizito’s energy rubbed onto his team-mates and Blasters shrugged off their indifferent form to put pressure on the rival. The strategy of holding possession and slowing down the pace upset Pune’s rhythm. Kerala Blasters then worked the ball into the rival box using the pace of Pekuson on the right flank. Kizito attacked and won the balls in the midfield to feed the strikers upfront.
Kizito set up Pekuson with a through ball and the Ghanian broke free on the right flank and his cut back from near post saw Sifneos score his third goal of the season with a left-footer. Pekuson was unlucky in the 88 minute when his left footer beat goalkeeper Vishal Kaith only to miss the target narrowly.
Watched by the thinnest ISL crowd (26,586) in Kochi so far, Kerala Blasters gave away advantage to Pune pretty early in the match. Pune attacked through wings and from middle and all what the Blasters defence could do was clear away the ball away the ball to concede a string of corners in the first 15 minute. Goalkeeper Subhasish Roy’s fumble off a long ranger from Jonathan Lucca in the ninth minute nearly gave away the first goal to Pune FC in the but the goalkeeper recovered in time to kick the ball away before Marcelinho could do the damage.
The Pune strike force of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfro packed too many guns for Blasters defence. A goal looked inevitable whenever, Pune worked the ball into the Blasters' half. However, the luck ran out when Marcelinho did a one-two with Mohammed Ashique at the edge of the box and then buried the ball into the net from close in the 33 minute.
The only time Blasters looked dangerous in the first half was in the 29 minute when Jackchand SIngh lobbed the ball into the box where Markos Sifneos headed out wide.
David James, on his first day as coach of the Kerala Blasters, brought in Dimitar Berbatov and Rino Anto and both players were coming into the squad after recovering from injuries. Berbatov looked rusty and hardly could play a influential role in the midfield. He was substituted by Keziron Kizito and it changed the contest on its head.