Kerala Blasters have been rocked with the absence of marquee player Aaron Hughes for their crucial Hero Indian Super League encounter against FC Goa at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here tomorrow.
Kerala’s choice of Hughes as a marquee player was well-thought. He was comparatively younger than the other marquee players and with his international playing days behind him, was expected to be around for most part of the ISL.
However, Northern Ireland have summoned Hughes to bolster its defence and 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,” said Kerala manager Steve Coppell.
Apart from Hughes, Kerala will also have to do without Haitian international Duckens Nazon, while the two Bengaluru FC players – Rino Anto and CK Vineeth – are unlikely to be fielded straightway.
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It’s the absence of Hughes which will hit Kerala the most but Coppell believes other players can step into his boots and avoid results like the 0-2 defeat against Delhi Dynamos in the 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,” said the Kerala Blasters manager, who will take his side back home after four consecutive away games where they managed 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. Whether it remains the same without Hughes remains to be seen but FC Goa forwards have not been as explosive as in the past.
FC Goa have scored only five goals in eight matches and chief coach Zico hopes his strikers will come good in the second phase.
“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,” explained Zico.
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 match winner from a majestic free-kick against FC Pune City and the visitors will need the full points 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.