Kochi: After a season-opening win from last week, David James has raved about the depth in Kerala Blasters squad as he hopes to get their best ever Indian Super League start by beating Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Friday.
Kerala Blasters have never before, since the league began in 2014, won the first two matches of a season and James has backed the youngsters in the side to play a decisive role against Mumbai that had lost its opener 0-2 to Jamshedpur.
The Blasters’ starting XI against ATK had a youthful vibe about it, with local boy Sahal Abdul Samad earning his first start alongside former U17 goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh while the experienced C.K. Vineeth, Courage Pekuson and Naveen Kumar among others, sat on the bench.
“The younger ones are more effervescent. Match winners don’t have to play 90 minutes. CK (Vineeth) and Courage (Pekuson) came on and had a positive influence on the game,” David James said.
The two, otherwise likely starters, were substituted in and had impacted the outcome with Kerala scoring twice in the final quarter, through new recruits Matej Poplatnik and Slavisla Stojanovic.
The Englishman has even urged their star recruit, India centre-back Anas Edathodika to “prove himself worthy of selection” once he is available after serving a three-match suspension imposed at the end of last season.
Abdul Samad, 21, who had captained the Blasters’ reserves in the second division last season, has no qualms about being subbed out at half-time on his first start. His replacement, Pekuson, had a telling role in the lead up to the opener on Saturday.
After keeping a clean-sheet the other day, Kerala is expected to retain the same backline with Dheeraj in goal and Nemanja Lakic-Pesic partnering skipper Sandesh Jhingan in the centre of defence and Mohammed Rakip and Lalruatthara as fullbacks.
Abdul Samad and Halicharan Narzary should be hoping to keep their spots though Vineeth and Pekuson will be pushing for a start.
Mumbai City head coach Jorge Costa has lamented their inadequate time for preparation after playing on Tuesday.