The word unbeaten might not be quite popular among the Kerala Blasters faithful right now, especially after the 1-1 draw at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune that stretched their run of stalemates to four games. In contrast, the FC Pune City fans, who saw interim manager Pradyum Reddy take charge of his first home game after coach Miguel Angel Portugal was given his marching orders, would take the tag all day long.
Friday's 1-1 draw between FC Pune City and Kerala Blasters was one generic footballing affair. But the end result could carry some significance for both sides in the season ahead.
On the balance of play, the visitors had the better of the game. The Blasters had more possession (61-39), made almost double the number of passes and had five shots on target more compared to the hosts. However, despite being second best in most statistical parameters, FC Pune City had a possibility of walking away with all three points.
Skipper Emiliano Alfaro had the opportunity to double Pune's lead early in the second half from the penalty spot, but only managed to hit the crossbar. The goal would have been a killer blow for the Blasters who would have found themselves 2-0 down despite completely dominating the contest.
On the contrary, the penalty miss gave Blasters the impetus to equalise minutes later and put Pune on the mat. However, Pradyum Reddy's side did well to hold the fort for 30 minutes after the equaliser and secure just their second point of the season.
The performance might not provide a great deal of encouragement for the Stallions faithful, but the mental toughness the team showcased to survive the shift in momentum after the events early in the second half was praiseworthy.
"It was pretty obvious from the last game against FC Goa that the team cannot sustain the level of performance for the full ninety minutes. Hence, we dropped off after our goal and made some adjustments after our goalscorer had to be substituted. I can't doubt the effort of the players today and I felt the boys stuck to the game plan and did exactly what we tried to do against Kerala Blasters," Reddy told reporters after the game.
The interim manager also revealed that his players aren't in the desired physical condition that's needed to compete in the competition. "The feedback that I got from the players in the last few days is that we just don't have the fitness levels to play at this level in the ISL. It's almost like we haven't had a pre-season. So in the circumstances, the players put in an excellent performance. We have got to take the positives from this," he added.
If FC Pune City are to challenge for the playoff spots this season, they may look back at this hard-earned point against the Kerala Blasters as a crucial juncture in their season.
However, for the Blasters, the result brings in more frustration. Their dominance counted for little in the end and they went back with a feeling of angst at not taking all three points once again.
A total of 21 shots resulted in just one goal for the Kerala Blasters in Pune on Friday, but that's been a pattern for David James' side which has been far from clinical in the ISL this season. The Blasters have the highest number of shots in the league (81) so far this season but are fifth in the goal scored charts.
The contest at the Balewadi Stadium epitomised the Blasters' relative toothlessness in front of goal. On a number of occasions, the Blasters players wasted excellent shooting opportunities. 13 of their 21 shots were off target.
Manager James cut a rather unhappy figure at the end of the game and played down his side's unbeaten tag. "It's great that your team doesn't lose, but if we keep drawing games throughout the season, we won't qualify. We need to win games and for that to happen, we need to be more clinical in front of goal," the former Liverpool goalkeeper told reporters.
The Blasters had a goal ruled out in the first half. Alfaro who was lying on the ground appeared to deliberately handle the ball to prevent it from going past the line. Similarly, the penalty that Pune got in the second half was contentious and James was quick to bring that up in his post-match comments.
"Some of the refereeing decisions have gone against us recently. Today there two huge calls that should have gone our way," the Englishman said.
James had made similar complaints during his side's draw against Delhi Dynamos earlier in the season, but few could argue that the Kerala Blasters had enough opportunities to bag the three points despite the possible refereeing mistakes.
This script of the Blasters' stalemates is getting uncomfortably familiar. With the game against Bengaluru FC on the horizon, David James and Co will need to show improvement to remain unbeaten.
There's a long way to go in the season but if Kerala Blasters pile on the frustrations of their draws, the unfancied unbeaten tag might suddenly be missed.