After each matchweek of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), the league table has witnessed an upswing of several teams into the top six and at the same time the plunge of other teams in the lower half. Following back-to-back losses against Mumbai City FC and FC Goa, Kerala Blasters FC hosted NorthEast United FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi. With their playoffs qualification yet to be confirmed, the Blasters returned to winning ways and did so in style in their 2-0 victory in front of the home crowd.

The Blasters earned their ninth win of the season as they reclaimed the third spot in the league table. Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic sat down with Kerala Blasters FC and talked about his side's victory against NorthEast United FC, shed light on how the season is progressing, his side’s mentality, and the team's preparedness ahead of the playoffs.

"It was absolutely crucial that we achieved these three points in this period of the season, five big steps to go and get three points, climbing, and staying third on the Hero ISL points. It was hugely important to get it done on Sunday. It was not easy to dominate, organize and play this kind of game after two defeats not only on the physical level but on a mental level. It was hard to prepare, it was hard to get there. I'm very glad to see the boys how they responded on sunday, especially in the first half," Vukomanovic said while talking about the fixture against NorthEast United FC.

"Having that power and motivation to want to score goals. Wanting to get the game under control. And then like that, managing the game and getting these three points. We knew that by not doing that we could have brought us into a difficult situation. So without force and quality, we managed this game last night to get us where we are now so we are really happy and thrilled about it," he added.

Having reached the final of Hero ISL 2021-22 season, the 45-year-old hasn't made any significant changes to the squad, keeping the core of his team intact. Summer signing Bryce Miranda, who joined Kerala Blasters FC from I-League side Churchill Brothers has two goals and two assists in seven appearances for the club. Vukomanovic elaborated on the importance of new signings getting adapted to not just the team but the league, the style of play, and its intensity in general, highlighting the contrast between the two leagues.

"I was happy to see him and all the other boys last night repeating and doing certain things from training sessions. He was scoring that first goal with a cross, the things that you want to do against those teams. Not only Bryce (Miranda), if you speak about any player coming from the I-League for the first time in the Hero ISL, there are many things that must be changed, the approach of every game, every training, concentration, and professionalism. Then the intensity of training and all these things the players need time to adapt. They need time to be accepted to a dressing room to a new group of players," Vukomanovic stated.

Vukomanovic made six changes to the playing XI from their previous game to turn around their form and solidify their grip on the playoffs berth after losing two consecutive matches. He stated that it was a coaching decision to test different players and approach the game with mentality and character.

"We changed a couple of players, that was the coaching choice, maybe also depending on last year's performances, and we have a good group of players. Everybody deserves to play. Everybody has certain qualities. That's why they're here. Yesterday also, I was talking with the players in the team talk that the talent and quality they have and they don't have to think about that. The only thing they have to think about is the way we want to approach the game. The mentality and character we need to show because there is a reason why they are in Kerala Blasters. We choose them because they have that talent and quality," Vukomanovic explained.

The Tuskers have been clinical when it has come to goalscoring, with Greek striker Dimitrios Diamantakos leading the charge in their hopes of finishing in the top three. Diamantakos has scored nine goals and provided three assists out of the 25 goals netted by his side. Vukomanovic praised on the striker's adaptibility and the ability to regularly find the back of the net.

"The best thing about a striker is when you recognize the hunger for goals and Dimi (Dimitrios Diamantakos) is exactly the type of striker. He came to the league without a proper preseason so he needed time to adapt. Dimo possesses the qualities that we needed. He is clinical and very dangerous in the box for the opponents. That is by creating some spaces and serving him with quality balls. He can score goals, from any situation," Vukomanovic said.

After 15 games in the season, Kerala Blasters FC are placed third in the Hero ISL points table. Vukomanovic's side have already matched the number of wins from last season. The Yellow Army head coach highlighted how the team needs to be concentrated in the last stretch of games and discussed the objective of building a strong unit.

"So now we know being third on the table gives us maybe a little bit more comfort, but it's not the case. We have to be strong in the next remaining five games. We need to get ready and prepare for those games because it will be crucial for us to get a couple of more points. We want to stay high up the table. We want to be in a better position in the playoffs and then qualify and fight for the title.

"This is our objective. As a club, since last year, since we arrived, we were talking about building up a strong unit that will be participating in playoffs every year by being strong throughout the season, and getting victories. I think now that we are on the same level of victories like last year, so with five more games to go we need to stay strong. We need to stay united, we need to stay even more ready than ever before," Vukomanovic concluded.