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Champions trick – Kerala Blasters succumb to ATK second half specialist Mohun Bagan

Heading into Sunday’s Indian Super League (ISL) game against ATK Mohun Bagan, there were two things the Kerala Blasters needed to focus on. First, they needed a good start. And then they had to defend their lead after the break.

The Blasters knew they had the worst defense in the league statistically and only East Bengal had conceded more goals in the second half of matches. To make matters worse, they were up against a team that had scored 12 of their 13 goals this season after the break. And what seemed to be the inevitable happened.

The Yellow Army got what they wanted and it was Gary Hooper. The former Celtic forward continued his ascent as Jordan Murray’s striking partner and opened the scoring with a better shot. He had a moment back to his days at Norwich City when he collected a pass from right-back Sandeep Singh and sent a thunderous effort into the net.

The Blasters had the first goal they dreamed of and seemed dominant enough to win the game in the first half even though it was another team. But Bagan was an expert at building up the pressure after the restart, so the dressing room team had to speak at half-time about their refusal to return.

The Blasters seemed to have done it right when they doubled the lead in the 51st minute. Sahal Abdul Samad’s corner was sent into the box by Rahul KP and Costa Nhamoinescu directed it towards the goal. Arindam Bhattacharya saved the effort with a header but couldn’t deny a goal to the defender as the latter crushed the rebound.

Bagan, as they have done several times this season, seemed to have higher speeds. Antonio Habas’ halftime changes – Manvir Singh and Pronay Halder in place of Sumit Rathi and Sheikh Sahil – made sense and the Mariners had more quality on the ball in the second half.

Marcelinho, after going just over 300 minutes without scoring a goal for Odisha in the first half of the season, scored a well-on-target goal on his debut for Bagan. He mustered Manvir’s lob over defense, did a short job from makeshift center-back Jeakson Singh dribbling into the box and chipping Albino Gomes in style.

A handball from Jessel Carneiro in a scuffle with Manvir, who had also handled the ball, inside the box gave Bagan a penalty after the half hour and Roy Krishna stepped up and converted from there ‘place to equalize.

Blasters’ intensity dropped at the wrong time in the second half and a complacent defense made Bagan’s challenge easier. The team failed to master the procedure and opened a way back for the Mariners to explore. And they did it happily. The Blasters’ refereeing and defense left a lot to be desired.

With three minutes remaining, the blasters’ calamitous defense saw Krishna score his second goal of the night and win the game for Bagan. Costa and Jessel both missed a header and allowed Krishna to pick his spot in the lower left corner of the net.

It remains a close race for the playoffs despite the loss, but the Blasters’ poor defense is what would have cost them the top four if they missed it this season.