In their last nine matches, Kerala Blasters have gifted goals to opposition through defensive mistakes in at least eight of them. A pretty damning statistic that for a team which harbours hopes of making it into the Indian Super League (ISL) play-offs.
That tendency hampered them yet again against FC Goa on Saturday as they fell to a 3-2 defeat despite a resilient show which saw them take the game to the Gaurs in their own backyard.
After a positive start to 2020 that saw them beat ATK and Hyderabad FC, defeats to Jamshedpur FC and now FC Goa which has seen their top-four hopes virtually end. The disappointing part for Eelco Schattorie will be the fact that in both these losses, Blasters had shown a bit of imagination and intent in attack only for their lapses at the back to undo them.
It was an ill-advised tackle from Abdul Hakku that reduced Blasters to 10-men in the second half and a baffling hand-ball from Raphael Messi Bouli that brought Jamshedpur back into the game. Against FC Goa, a lack of organisation at the back undid the great work done by Messi and Bartholomew Ogbeche in the second half.
Kerala were confident in possession in the first half, trying to use the flanks to send in balls that Ogbeche and Messi could attack, but uncertainty in defence came back to bite them on two occasions.
For the first goal, Mohammed Rakip was guilty of ball-watching as Mandar Rao Dessai ran past him with ease to get on to a ball over the top from Brandon Fernandes. Once Mandar had gone in behind the defence down the left, all he had to do was square the ball across the face of the box for Hugo Boumous who once again had a brilliant game.
Boumous has been the key man for Goa in attack, perhaps more so than Ferran Corominas this season.
The second goal also was due to lacklustre defending so close to the half-time whistle. Nobody closed down Coro when he latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the box and Jackichand Singh managed to somehow divert a cross in.
The Men in Yellow also struggled during the set-pieces, with Mourtada Fall almost scoring on one occasion with a goalline clearance from Ogbeche saving the day. In fact, they have struggled with set-pieces throughout the season. Blasters have conceded 8 goals from set-pieces, which is the second-most by any team this season.
But a complacent Goa switched off at half-time and credit must be given to Kerala for taking the game to them. Messi and Ogbeche made a real nuisance of themselves, with Seityasen Singh also threatening from the wings.
They got two deserved goals and should've had a third when Sahal Abdul Samad, once again appearing as a substitute, flashed a shot wide after foxing Fall with some neat footwork.
But as has been the case lately, Kerala's lack of organisation at the back hurt them at a crucial time. Despite Kerala dominating the second half, Goa did have their chances on their break and finally took one seven minutes from time. Not only was Jahouh not closed down, the defenders did not keep track of Boumous' run in between them to turn in the chipped ball.
Watching this Kerala Blasters team, one always feels that they are capable of finding goals when they desperately need one. But they are also equally capable of conceding goals when they desperately do not want to. That has been their season so far. Of course, frequent injuries to defenders and a lack of stability in midfield has not helped them.
Goa, on the other hand, pull two points clear on the race for the top spot with which comes the AFC Champions League spot. But they need to find a remedy to their tendency of switching off during phases.