ISL: Kerala to miss Hughes against Goa (Preview)

Kochi, Nov 7 (IANS) Kerala Blasters will miss the services of their marquee player Aaron Hughes when they take on FC Goa in an Indian Super League (ISL) encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday.

Kerala’s choice of Hughes as a marquee player was well thought as the veteran Northern Ireland defender was comparatively younger than the other marquee players.

However, Northern Ireland have summoned Hughes to bolster their defence during their upcoming matches against Azerbaijan and Croatia which means Kerala will have to do without their most influential player.

“When we signed him as a marquee player, we thought (about) his age and having finished the European Championships, we thought his international days were over. Northern Ireland has had an injury problem and called him into the squad,” Kerala manager Steve Coppell said on the eve of the match.

Apart from Hughes, Kerala will also have to do without Haitian international Duckens Nazon, while their two Bengaluru FC players — Rino Anto and C.K. Vineeth — are unlikely to be fielded straightway.

It’s the absence of Hughes which will hit Kerala the most but Coppell believes that other players can step into his shoes and avoid results like the 0-2 defeat against Delhi Dynamos in their previous clash.

“He is a marquee player. We signed him because he is a good player. To lose him is a loss. When one door closes, it opens for someone else. It’s an opportunity. When you have such big squads in the ISL, when players get opportunities, they must grab,” the Kerala Blasters manager said.

On Tuesday, Kerala will be playing their first home match after four consecutive away games in which they managed just five points.

Kerala Blasters have had the best defence in the league but most of their defensive strength is due to a strong partnership at the back consisting of Hughes and Cedric Hengbart.

However, the FC Goa forwards will have to perform better than they have so far during this year’s ISL in order to capitalise on Hughes’ absence. FC Goa have scored only five goals in eight matches and chief coach Zico hopes his strikers will come good in the second phase of the tournament.

“I think our players are suffering from anxiety. They have this pressure to score and look for the results. When it comes to finishing, they are being reckless. They don’t have the patience. They are not cold-blooded in front of goal. The goalkeeping standard this year has been quite high too,” Zico explained.

With Julio Cesar on the injured list, Zico will have to continue relying on Brazilian striker Rafael Coelho to get him the goals. Coelho scored the winner from a majestic free kick against FC Pune City and the visitors will need the full points on Tuesday to stay in contention for a place in the semi-finals.

FC Goa are placed at the bottom and can jump two spots with a victory, while Kerala Blasters who are in seventh position can move to the top four if they can register a victory at home.