Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic urged his players to give their all as they prepare to face East Bengal FC in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) match on Wednesday. 

With the final home game of the season approaching in the league stage, Kerala Blasters, currently fifth in the standings, are aiming to break their three-game winless streak. They secured their spot in the playoffs on Tuesday following Punjab FC's defeat to Odisha FC, marking their third consecutive appearance in the ISL knockout stages.

However, the task won't be easy as they face East Bengal FC, currently positioned 11th in the standings and trailing the Blasters by 12 points. East Bengal FC, under Carles Cuadrat's leadership, are desperate for a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, a feat they have never achieved before.  

The Blasters suffered a setback in their previous home game against Mohun Bagan Super Giant and are determined to bounce back against East Bengal FC. Vukomanovic rallied his players to capitalise on the home advantage and is confident in their ability to secure a positive outcome.

“For us as a team tomorrow (on Wednesday), it's the last game of the regular part of the season where the boys need to come and play with full power, enjoy the feeling of playing in front of our (fans on our) home ground. Whoever is on the pitch, needs to give everything they have to achieve a good result and get points for the club for themselves and for the fans as well,” he said in the pre-match press conference.

In their last seven matches, Kerala Blasters FC have struggled to maintain a clean sheet, with their defensive line faltering. Their last shutout dates back to December, coinciding with their 2-0 victory over Mumbai City FC. Since January, the team has conceded a total of 12 goals across seven matches, resulting in just one win during this stretch. Vukomanovic emphasised the importance of rectifying individual errors and instilling a resilient mindset while defending.

“If you as a team are capable enough to manage those things (errors), that you can hold your defensive lines correctly and that you don't commit those kind of errors, I think with our qualities, especially when we play at home, we can score some nice goals with the football we play, and when we accelerate,” he explained. 

He added: “In the ISL these kinds of individual mistakes (happen) not only in our case, but if you look at any other game that happens all around. With this as a player, you have to take responsibility, as a coach you want to put the emphasis on it about taking no risk in a difficult and a dangerous area. Trying to clear out the situations to not concede those goals, so of course you work on those things, you try to get that mindset into the team.”

After their encounter with East Bengal FC, Kerala Blasters FC faces a tight schedule, with a quick turnaround before their next match against NorthEast United FC in Guwahati on April 6, followed by their final league game in Hyderabad on April 12. Recognising the demanding fixture list, Vukomanovic stated his intention to rest certain players against East Bengal FC to ensure they remain fresh and ready to perform at their best amidst the gruelling schedule.

“We’re improvising even now, for tomorrow's game after the long trip to Jamshedpur and back. 14 hours trip back and forth so probably tomorrow, we have to rotate at least five-six players that you have to leave on the bench and other new five-six players that you need to play because a couple of hours after the game we need to fly to Guwahati. We have all those issues that you have to deal with when you see the program, when you see the calendar,” he revealed.

“You have to find the best possible options always as a coach, hoping not to get more injuries because we don't want to lose players no more here now till the end of the competition. We want everybody to be available, trying to refresh them, recover them in the best possible way and play the games in the best possible way you can accumulating points. There is no time that you can build up and think about something (and that) we're going to do it now with a similar uh let's say program,” he added.  

Motivated to give more: Sandeep Singh

Accompanying Vukomanovic in the pre-match press conference was defender Sandeep Singh, who has emerged as a pivotal figure in Kerala Blasters FC's defensive lineup this season, having featured in 13 matches so far. Hailing from Manipur, Singh has been a consistent presence for the Blasters since joining the club in 2020. 

Recently, he reached a significant milestone by making his 50th league appearance during the match against Jamshedpur FC. Reflecting on this achievement, Singh expressed his pride and determination to continue contributing effectively to the club.

“For me, playing 50 games for the league and the club was not easy. I feel blessed, happy and motivated to give more,” Singh said in the pre-match press conference.