ISL 2020-21: In a corroded beginning to the season, Roy Krishna shows the way

Indian Super League (ISL) on Friday marked the return of football in a country that continues to grapple with the concept of normalcy in a Covid-stricken world.

An eight-month layoff, the country’s first attempt to organise a major tournament in a bio-secure environment and a look at one of the oldest Indian clubs in a new avatar – the new season of the Indian Super League (ISL) on Friday marked the return of football in a country that continues to grapple with the concept of normalcy in a Covid-stricken world.

But it wasn’t a smooth start, as many had expected. The way clubs had to go through their pre-season training, with many of them playing their first competitive match since March, made sure the players wouldn’t be at their peak right out of the game. Add to this the complexities of living in a bubble and playing in front of empty stands.

Yet, Bambolim’s GMC Stadium hosted the Season 7 between Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan, with the Mariners edging their opponents 1-0 thanks to an opportunistic second-half goal by Roy Krishna.

Teams will take a couple of games to truly get into the thick of matters and that was apparent just three minutes into the new season. A routine corner, directed into the six-yard box, saw no attempt at a clearance by Kerala defenders and the ball fell kindly to Krishna. But the Fijian, who netted 15 goals in his debut season in 2019-20, fluffed his attempt at a tap-in and somehow the score remained goalless.

The game was a riot of poor decisions, passes and missed opportunities. Indian international Sahal Abdu Samad had a similar chance to score in the second half with the ball landing nicely at his feet in the box and no tackle or interception in sight. The Kerala-native responded with a poorly judged slice at the ball that once again showed the effects of no football for eight months.

Living in their own bubble

Bagan coach Antonio Habas has always been a lively figure. His screams and his gesticulations dominate the touchline proceedings in most matches – as it did on Friday. But behind him were the substitutes and the coaching staff, most of whom were wearing masks – albeit incorrectly.

There is plenty at stake and a lot of personal freedoms have been flung out the window in an attempt to create a bio-secure bubble. The ISL rules on social distancing and wearing a mask even in the bubble is a fail-safe for, if by some accident, a player or staff member contracts the virus.

Bagan’s case for champions

Kerala may have lost but they were clearly the better team. There was but a rare occasion when the Blasters tried to live up to their name and get rid of the ball. Instead, they played out of the back, rarely kicked the ball away under pressure but were eventually victims of not being able to create any real possibilities to score.

Bagan on the other hand, touted to be the favourites to defend the title, may have to look at that abysmal 59 per cent pass completion rate that they had, then take a look at Pronay Halder and then take one more look at just how bad they were at keeping the ball last night. The quality that they enjoy in a striker of the calibre of Roy Krishna saved them from a draw because it seldom happens that a team completes only 132 successful passes in a game and comes away with all three points – and usually it’s hard to comprehend those teams vying for titles.

Krishna’s moment of quality

All through the game, a mistake being capitalised upon was how it seemed a goal might come about – which happened in the 67th minute. Kerala’s Jose Vicente Gomez and Sergio Cidoncha attempted to clear the ball from a weak attempt at a cross from Manvir Singh.

Whether it was a lack of communication or just poor contact, the clearance from Cidoncha didn’t end up being worth much and the ball landed squarely between both players. Krishna, who at the moment, wasn’t enjoying the best of games, found himself in the middle of both culprits with space. The Fijian took a swipe with his wrong foot on the half volley and expertly put it past KBFC goalkeeper Albino Gomes’ right side for the winning goal.

Playing tonight: NorthEast United vs Mumbai City, 7.30 pm, Live on Star Sports Network