Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic stated he is well aware of the importance of their rivalry against Bengaluru FC and said his team like to relish such challenges ahead of their meeting in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Sunday.

The Blasters are on their longest winning run, with four straight wins and are placed sixth on the table. Bengaluru FC, meanwhile, are placed ninth and will be aiming to get back to winning ways after an inconsistent start to the season.

Vukomanovic, who attended the pre-match press conference alongside forward Apostolos Giannou, called for his side to maintain their consistency as the season progresses. The KBFC head coach further mentioned how three defeats on the spin before their winning run handed his side a reality check, underlining the need to get back to basics.  

Here are the excerpts from Vukomanovic:

Bengaluru FC is coming to Kochi as the Southern Derby is going to take place. How excited are you for the clash?

Vukomanovic: We how important it is for the people of Kerala. The matches always have a spice in it. We as a team like to play these kinds of games and when you talk to players, when you have the mind of a footballer, you want to compete, you want to play in such games, you want to be a part of the spectacle and on Sunday we will see, let the better team win.

In a recent interview you mentioned that the crosses are not working, they are not accurate. What is the way to correct it?

Vukomanovic: Hard Work. The fact that there must be correct movement in the box, correct timing and running lines, correct crosses, and many other aspects that you have to work on. So we see that every game even last night in previous games, you see that very often. Then the players have to accept the fact that they don't have to cross just to cross Because very often there is no one in the box. So these kinds of things are part of the game, how to correct how to work on them, how to be patient to get players into the box, with the correct timings and then with accurate crossing. So this is the part of the game, of the hard work in training sessions.

Do you have any messages for the fans who are concerned about the safety after an incident in the previous match?

Vukomanovic: When you as an away team fan arriving at the stadium of 35-40,000 people and when you are not even hundreds then you will insecure and imitated especially, when you come and play here in Kochi, we know what atmosphere is here so then of course it will be high tempered. We know how the home support, the fans support Kerala Blasters FC. So, I'm very sorry if there were any unpredictable or ugly things but they are emotions.

I hope that everybody was safe, also for Sunday's game or any other game, I hope all the fans will behave well and let everyone be okay. Let everybody support their teams and like I always like to say let the better team win. Of course we are playing at home, we like to play in front of our fans, we like to give 100 percent for them, we like to give everything for the and we are so pleased and happy to see the Yellow sea all around, standing still when we go out of the tunnel, it's priceless. Every team supporters they know, when they come to Kochi, it will be about Kerala Blasters FC supporters, Kochi is football. So, let's hope everyone will be alright on Sunday and happy with the game. We will do our best to show the spectacular.

Do you think your side can make any more improvements?

Vukomanovic: When you start the pre-season with new faces..then you are looking for positive and negative references to start building up. We went abroad to UAE with a purpose, trying to organise games against very good teams. We wanted to lose some games because it gives you a platform for how you need to build up further on, speaking about and offensive work. But then we didn’t get a chance because of the ban to the (All India Football) Federation. So we organised other games and we managed to win those. At one moment, we needed that slap in our face which resulted in three defeats in a row and then from that moment you want to continue building up and get back to basics and organise some things. Last season we were playing without fans, but this season is different with home and away games. It’s different as you’re moving around India.

This year so far, there are some teams that have had these kind of moments where you’re losing and need to get back on track if you want to be high up the rankings. Now we are almost halfway into the league. Even last season we witnessed that December and January is one of the most important parts of the season where many teams are casual, not consistent and drop points. That’s the moment where you win or lose your place in the standings.

We want to be a team that is consistent. From now, till the end of January we want to be consistent when it will be tough. You don’t know what will be the case as everybody wants to get ready and be ready for a fight. Those three defeats were not pleasant but it gave us a moment to build up and reset certain things, to create a new reference and so far we are in a positive moment and want to continue the same way. It happens all around the world in all competitions. Every team has that moment where you get shaken up and you have to get back to basics and start building up.  

Where do you expect to finish in the league phase now that you're halfway into the season?

Vukomanovic: Every team starts the season with an objective and with great motivation to participate with a  place in the playoffs. Last season, I mentioned that we want to build a team that is tough to beat. A unit that will participate constantly in the playoffs. Our objective this season after many changes is to participate again in the playoffs. We want to be among the best. Last season, no one expected us to be in the playoffs or the finals. In this league, anything is possible.

The moment you are consistent, in a positive line and when you are tough, anything is possible. Let’s hope that we will continue collecting points because it’s important and let’s see where it brings us as there are tough games ahead. We have to be strong and well prepared. We have ambitions to be in the playoffs and we want to be among the best. That’s our objective. We hope we can continue with that and after 20 games that we will be among the best. If that’s the case, we will fight for the trophy.  

Any injury updates?

Vukomanovic: Bijoy Varghese will return to training next week. Apart from that, everyone is available.

There are two more slots this season to qualify for the playoffs, so how comfortable are you with that?

Vukomanovic: The more games we play, the happier I am. The playoffs are very interesting for everyone and everyone will be happy to participate. So if we qualify, we will accept that with a smile and hope for the best. 

Here are the excerpts from Giannou's press conference:

You haven't been able to start since the first match with you suffering the injury, now you're pushing for the starting how. How was that challenge for you?

Giannou: You train everyday, you train hard and you patiently wait for your chance. This is football, every player goes through it so the main thing is to help the team, that's the most important part and enjoy the moments. So when and if I get the chance to help the team, I'm ready but the important thing is the team is in good form now and we need to continue that.

What's your connection in the dressing room like?

Giannou: Oh, it’s very good. I think it’s an important part of our team. Everybody is together, we enjoy each other’s company, and also in training, I’m happy to train with new players. But the main thing is to keep training and working hard to achieve the goals and help the team succeed. Right now, we are in a very good position, in a very good momentum, but we want to continue to keep this positivity moving forward in the season.