Kerala Blasters drew their fourth match in succession on Friday, while Pune City would be relieved at stopping their three-match losing streak in the Indian Super League.
A 1-1 draw could have been better for the home team at the Balewadi Stadium if Emiliano Alfaro had converted his penalty. Marko Stojanovic gave Pune the lead against the run of play but given the shambles their defence has been in of late, a clean sheet again proved elusive.
After defending stoutly for the first period, Nikola Krcmarevic struck an equaliser for the visitors, who once again had to come from behind to level a match. The match, though, will be remembered for the controversy that saw Kerala Blasters miss out on a penalty.
The Indian Super League is no stranger to refereeing controversies. There were plenty last season and another one turned up on Friday.
In the 42nd minute of the match, Krcmarevic thought he had brought his side back into the match, presuming the ball had crossed the goal-line. The referee, Om Prakash Thakur, consulted with his linesman and later ruled that the ball, as a whole, had not crossed the line and thus struck out Blasters’ equaliser.
While replays seemed to vindicate the referee’s decision, Alfaro was clearly seen stopping the ball with his hands. The referee had missed what seemed like a stonewall penalty and Pune got away lightly on their home turf.
Pune’s misfiring forwards
For the second game in a row, Emiliano Alfaro cost his team potential points. His penalty struck the crossbar this time, but the former NorthEast United player was a shadow of the man who last season took Pune to the play-offs along with Marcelinho.
Alfaro’s touch was poor all night, and he had missed a free header in the minutes prior to Stankovic’s opener. In his 98 minutes on the pitch, he created one chance, had three shots, none of which was on target, and completed 35 passes with an accuracy of 54%.
The two men contributed 17 of the 30 goals last season which took Pune to the play-offs, scoring the goals off a combined 74 shots taken. This time around, 30 shots have yielded two goals.
|Player||Goals||Shots on Target/Shots||Conversion Rate|
|Emiliano Alfaro (2017-'18)||9||17/28||32.14|
|Emiliano Alfaro (2018-'19)||1||5/15||6.66|
Defence necessitates a change
Matt Mills was the only survivor of the back four that conceded three against Bengaluru FC. Against Goa, they conceded four and that brought about a change in approach.
Against Kerala, they played much deeper and were happy to let Kerala have the ball, conceding 61% of possession to their opponents. While the Blasters were unable to break down a deep defence, Pune were content in defending a first-half lead.
Coming into the game, Pune had the second-lowest tackles per game (20) and were bottom in interceptions (7.25 per game) and clearances (20.75 per game). Adil Khan made nine of Pune’s 27 tackles, also pitching in with six clearances and four interceptions. Matt Mills was Pune’s other outstanding defensive player, making 10 interceptions, 3 clearances and 5 blocks.
Kerala, the draw specialists
The Blasters now have four draws in succession this season and have not won since the opening match against ATK. In 23 matches played since the start of last season, no team has drawn more matches than Kerala’s 11.
Only on seven of those 23 occasions have they scored more than one goal, the most recent occasion being the 2-2 draw against Jamshedpur FC. The last two times before the Pune match, they scored exactly one goal and conceded late equalisers. Pranjal Bhumij in the 90th minute and Andrija Kaludjerovic in the 85th minute earned a point for Mumbai City and Delhi Dynamos respectively.
A failure to kill the game in Pune cost them the two points on Friday as well. Matej Poplatnik has the solitary goal this season, as David James will look for an alternate to chipping the ball to the striker’s chest and taking it from there.