Kerala Blasters drew 1-1 with ATK in an Indian Super League encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Friday.
Edu Garcia’s free-kick five minutes from time gave Steve Coppell’s men the lead in their bid to make the final four and clinch a play-off place. Matej Poplatnik’s header went in the 89th minute, and gave the Blasters a share of the spoils.
Kerala Blasters, under new coach Nelo Vingada, started with Dheeraj Singh in goal and Matej Poplatnik, Slavisa Stojanovic and Len Doungel up front. Debutant Garcia started for ATK along with Hitesh Sharma, Kalu Uche and Jayesh Rane.
It was Kerala who had the lion’s share of the chances initially as the home side attacked through Cyril Kali on the right. The Spaniard who played for Bengaluru last season, Garcia, bore down on goal in the 24th minute but a last-ditch tackle by Sandesh Jhingan denied him and ATK a first-half goal.
It was Poplatnik whose header off a Doungel cross troubled Arindam Bhattacharjya in the ATK goal but it was palmed away to give the Blasters a corner. The first half ended with ATK shading possession, having 52 per cent of the ball.
The Blasters had more opportunities in the second half as Poplatnik once again had a header on target but Bhattacharjya kept it out once again. At the other end, Hitesh Sharma was a whisker away from a Garcia cross rolled into the box.
Stojanovic had the goal at his mercy but the Serbian blazed over as the Blasters saw another chance go begging. Garcia was then brought down on the edge of the box as ATK had a free-kick. The Spaniard stepped up, hit it low and Dheeraj could not keep it out, despite getting a hand on it.
The home team equalised three minutes later as Kali’s cross was met by Poplatnik, whose header took a deflection off Garcia to beat Bhattacharjya and roll in off the crossbar.
The match ended 1-1 as Kerala Blasters now have 10 points from their 13 matches. Having played the same number of games, ATK have 17 points and are in sixth spot, three off fourth-placed NorthEast United.