Kerala Blasters FC started their campaign on a winning note, after earning a well-deserved victory over ATK in the league's curtain raiser of the 2018-9 Hero Indian Super League (ISL) which was played at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
Kerala started off the game on the front after they were presented the first chance of the game as early as the fourth minute. Poplatnik came close to giving the hosts the breakthrough, following a splendid cross by Lalruatthara down the left flank. However, the Slovenian's glancing header narrowly missed the far post.
After a good start, five-minutes later, Kerala Blasters forward was back in the thick of things again. Lalruatthara picked out the Slovenian with another delicious cross, but this time Poplatnik's shot was saved by the ATK keeper.
ATK created their first meaningful chance of the game through Everton Santos. The Brazilian almost came close to scoring from distance, with the Kerala Blaster custodian Dheerj Singh looking almost beaten, but much to the young keeper's luck, the ball gazed above the bar and went out for a goal-kick.
The hosts continued to pile the pressure in search of that important goal, but the biggest chance of the first half fell to Jayesh Rane of ATK in the 39th minute. The pacey winger had found himself unamarked in acres of space following a well-executed corner by El Maimouni Noussair, but Jayesh failed to direct his header on target despite of having the goal at his mercy.
David James decided to make the first substitution of the night by brining in Courage Pekuson in place of Abdul Samad, and a cagey 15 minutes ensued after the interval. During that period, Sameegh Doungel had the best chance but his scuffed shot failed to trouble Battacharya in goal.
With both teams failing to impose themselves as the majority of the action was engaged in the middle of the park. Kerla's captain Sandesh Jinghan came close to scoring in the 69th minute after be bared down the ATK defence, only for his header to sail wide away from the target.
In search of the important goal, David James decided to bring in CK Vineeth in place for Doungel in his second throw of the dice. While ATK manager Steve Copple made a double change with Kalu Uche and Eugenson Lyndoh coming on for Balwant and El Maimouni.
The substitutions proved to a tuning point after Kerala’s incessant efforts finally paid dividends in the 78th minute Poplatnik found the back of the net. The Slovenian perfectly cushioned the ball past ATK's Battaycharya after Stojanovic’s deflected shot fell perfectly on to the Slovenian’s path to give Kerala the lead.
The visitors sealed the tie minutes later after Stojanovic doubled their lead. The forward picked up the ball few yards outside the box, skipped past his marker, before pulling an extrordinary curling effort that sailed into the top right corner of the net.
From thereon Kerala held tight to bag the first three points of the season, as for ATK is concerned, the defeat meant it was for the first time in the tournament's history that the Kolkata outfit had lost an opening day fixture.