Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic expressed satisfaction with the effort put in by his players despite going down to NorthEast United FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Saturday. 

Kerala Blasters FC succumbed to their second straight defeat and their ninth of the season as they were beaten by NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. 

The match saw the Blasters containing the home side for the majority of the game, with opportunities arising for both teams. However, late goals from Nestor Alibiach and Jithin MS tilted the balance in favour of NorthEast United FC, securing a vital win to bolster their playoff hopes. Albiach's well-executed finish opened the scoring, followed by Jithin MS's injury-time tap-in, sealing the victory. 

Kerala Blasters FC opted for substantial changes to their starting lineup, with 10 alterations from their previous game against East Bengal FC. This shake-up provided an opportunity for young talents such as Freddy Lallawmawma, Saurav Mandal, Mohammed Aimen, Lara Sharma, Ishan Pandita, Mohammed Azhar, and Nihal Sudeesh, who had seen limited game time this season, to showcase their abilities. 

Despite conceding late goals, Vukomanovic attributed the outcome partially to fatigue but expressed pride in the way his young players rose to the occasion.

“We were expecting tonight, in the last part of the game, that we are going to get some fatigue. Tonight also, I have to praise all of our players who gave their heart and everything on the pitch. Some of them played not in their natural position, but they did very well. Them playing for the first time in that formation and together, it was kind of a nice thing to see. I think we played even better than three days ago (against East Bengal FC) but due to fatigue and everything at one moment, you start to feel that,” he said in the post-match press conference. 

“We always know that the game in NorthEast (United FC’s home ground) is a difficult and complicated one. NorthEast United FC are playing their first game after the game. For us, it’s the third game in seven days, but again these are not excuses. We also wanted to refresh many of our players who we lost in the couple of days due to injuries and everything. So we need to give some playing time to these boys because most probably these boys will have to play the last game and then the playoffs. Then you have to manage. You can’t feel disappointed,” he added.  

Several of Kerala Blasters FC's young talents found themselves in unfamiliar roles during their match against NorthEast United FC. Goalkeeper Sharma, who is on loan from Bengaluru FC, earned his first start of the season for Kerala Blasters FC. Additionally, winger Saurav Mondal and midfielder Mohammad Azhar were tasked with playing in the full-back positions. Winger Nihal Sudeesh was also positioned upfront alongside Ishan Pandita. Despite the positional changes, Vukomanovic praised their adaptability in fulfilling their assigned roles.

“It makes me proud as a coach because you see the kids who are making their debuts this season, especially a couple of them who are not playing in their natural positions. Azhar being forced to play left full-back, Saurav being forced to play right full-back because that’s our situation for the moment. These young players are brave to step in to play the game because the ISL is completely different and a higher level than the youth level, and that’s the way it is. With Lara, that was his first game. He still has to get some confidence and that’s the way they have to grow up,” he explained. 

“You cannot avoid those moments because for them it’s kind of a big moment of recognising their football career at a professional level and I’m really pleased with the way they responded tonight. I think that we were well organised. We forced our opponent to play with long balls and we were covering good space and then, that kind of fatigue in the end, not being able to solve that one situation of a long ball, of course as a coach it makes you a little bit disappointed. We were not playing the way of our opponent. Even our boys were pushing and we had a couple of moments where we needed more quality, maturity and experience at the end of these chances. But in the end, that’s how it is,” he added.