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ISL Playoffs: Did Unfair Scheduling Cost Toppers Jamshedpur FC the Match Against Kerala Blasters?

Leo Xavier |
Sahal Abdul Samad scored for Kerala Blasters FC in their 1-0 victory over Jamshedpur FC in leg 1 of their Indian Super League (ISL) semifinal at the Fatorda Stadium.
Sahal Abdul Samad of Kerala Blasters FC vs Jamshedpur FC

Sahal Abdul Samad of Kerala Blasters FC celebrates with teammates after scoring against Jamshedpur FC on Friday (Pic: ISL).

Jamshedpur FC, the 2021-22 Indian Super League (ISL) shield winners, reiterated the fact that they are the best team in the country Friday night, albeit in a losing cause. Owen Coyle’s side, who finished top of the league standings this season, suffered a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their semifinal against Kerala Blasters FC. A match that should have gone Jamshedpur’s way, had the side capitalised on the many chances it created through the match.

There are more ifs and buts in the mix though, with Coyle not mincing words while talking about the lack of time his players had to recuperate after their final league stage assignment against ATK Mohun Bagan earlier this week. He questioned the logic behind the tight scheduling. Jamshedpur were wobbly due to injuries, and Coyle said that the fact that they still dominated the game is proof of their superiority on the pitch.

“We kept pushing on, bearing in mind we’re decimated by injuries,” added Coyle. “We were asked to have a quick turnaround in playing games. We’re also asked to come into Fatorda to play a home game when Bambolim is our home pitch and really we should not be playing away from home. You should ask the league why Jamshedpur is forced to play in the shortest turnaround and games.”

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Sahal Abdul Samad scored for Blasters in the 38th minute through a brilliant lob over Jamshedpur custodian TP Rehneesh while on the other end, Daniel Chima Chukwu paid the price for making wrong decisions in front of goal. It is hard to say whether the pressure of the occasion got to the Nigerian or was it, like Coyle was hinting, fatigue. Barring the misfiring strikers, Jamshedpur had a brilliant game, employing their high pressing style right from the start. 

Coyle admitted that his side should have gotten more out of the game.

“It gives Kerala Blasters the advantage for the second leg by one goal, but we could have been three goals up, the first half was some great play and we were terrific for that period,” said Coyle during the post-match presser.

He lauded the Blasters team and Samad for sticking to their gameplan and grabbing the opportunity. Coyle seems to have taken notes for the second leg of the semifinal on Tuesday. His side is just a goal down and they can, by all means, fancy a turnaround. 

“A great finish for the kid [Samad] who’s a very good player,” added Coyle. “But defensively, we think we could have done better in that instance. That being said, they got the goal and then defended in the second half. 

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“If you were to analyse the game, then certainly we didn’t deserve to lose the game tonight. But we did, because of the margins in this game. We were switched off for one instance, and we weren’t clinical when we should have been. Had that been the case, we would be 2-3 goals good. So when you think back to what we’re doing in the first half and if we do that, it will result in us getting to the final. And that’s what we have to strive to do,” he added.

Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic knows the threat Jamshedpur poses and is also planning to make some crucial changes for the second leg to spring a surprise or two.

"I think today's match gave us an idea of what things we need to change. But it also gives us a lot of question marks as it will be almost a similar game - it will be physical. As a young side, we need to adapt to win points and this is the case throughout the season. This is only the first game [in the play-offs], so we need to get ready for the next game," said the Serbian coach.

The opening leg of the second semifinal tie between Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan will be played on Saturday. Their second leg will be played on Wednesday, a day after the Blasters-Jamshedpur semifinal leg 2.

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