Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic is optimistic as they prepare to host Punjab FC in the opening fixture of Matchweek 15 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Monday. 

The Blasters currently sit third on the league table, having registered 26 points from their 13 games. They are five points shy of the top spot, currently held by Odisha FC. The Blasters will next lock horns with 11th-placed Punjab FC, who only have two wins to their name so far in their inaugural ISL season. The Shers have a tally of 11 points from 13 games. 

Vukomanovic considers their encounter against Punjab FC to be one of the most important games of the season as the Blasters are returning to their fortress for the first time since the halfway break. He expects a good game ahead and aims to collect as many points as possible from their fixtures at home.

“In my opinion, this is one of the most important games of the season so far because we want to start on a good way at home, seeing the fact that we will play four more games at home, five away. It is very important and crucial that we play good games at home to try to collect points, staying on top,” stated Vukomanovic at the pre-match press conference.

Looking forward to a competitive game ahead and requesting the fans to join them at the stadium and back them up, he added, “I expect a hard game, you know, with many duels, lots of runnings and, of course, hoping that with the help of the fans, tomorrow (on Monday), that we can achieve something nice. So now hopefully they will come tomorrow to support us. We need them, we need them now in the last, let's say line, more than ever.”

Uruguayan midfielder Adrian Luna who had been one of the most impactful players for Kerala Blasters FC since his arrival in 2021, suffered an unfortunate injury in the first half of the season. Spearheading the Blasters to a strong start in ISL 2023-24 season, the Kerala Blasters FC talisman contributed three goals and four assists before being forced out of action due to the injury. He had also created 26 chances for his team.  

The Serbian tactician expects Luna to cheer for his team from the stands on Monday. Providing an update on his recovery, Vukomanovic looks forward to having him back in their training sessions from the beginning of March. 

He shared, “Adrian will come to support us tomorrow. Because it's now, I think ten days that he's in Mumbai in a recovery process. He will be coming back to Kochi in the beginning of March to start training sessions with the medical staff and with the team.”

Analysing their opponent, the 46-year-old believes that Punjab FC are a tough team with experienced players and quality.

“I think it’s (Punjab FC) a very tough opponent. And whoever whoever thinks that the game against Punjab FC is easy, it's wrong. It's a very tough team, physically strong. They can punish you. They have experienced players, they have quality in the team. So it will not be easy for us. It will be a tough game,” said Vukomanovic.

I approach any position with a commitment to giving my all: Sudeesh

22-year-old midfielder Nihal Sudeesh accompanied the head coach to the press conference. He made his first ISL start in the previous game against Odisha FC, where he also provided an assist.

On being asked about his preferred position when donning the yellow jersey, the local boy from Kerala shared that he doesn't adhere to any specific position and is happy to contribute anywhere as per the head coach's needs.

Sudeesh stated in the pre-match press conference, "Regarding my preferred position in the field, I don't adhere to specific preferences. Whenever the coach assigns me a role, whether it be as a winger or striker, I approach it with a commitment to giving my all. My dedication remains unwavering, and I strive to deliver a hundred percent effort regardless of the position I'm asked to play."