Kolkata: From becoming champions to languishing at the eight position, ATK’s season have gone from a most winningest team to one in ramshakcles and although a change at the helm of affairs was expected to bring luck back to their fortunes, it didn’t. Which means the defending crown holders now finds itself in a must-win situation when they take on Jamshedpur FC at the Viveknanda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium here on Sunday.
But for new head coach Ashely Westwood, a win is most needed to install confidence in his players. “We need a win for confidence and for team morale. But I would still say we don’t need to win all the games we have left. Even if we lose tomorrow’s game, I will say we are still not out of the competition,” he said at the pre-match conference.
He didn’t have the beginning he would have loved to after being elevated from a Technical Director to a head-coaching role. ATK lost to Chennaiyin 2-1 in his debut match but more than a defeat, they lost Zequinha (3-5 weeks) and Ryan Taylor (1 game) to injuries, something that Westwood felt was unique — losing three players to injuries in a single match — Shankar Sampingiraj also went out, after hurting himself.
While injuries have played a major role in the down-spiralling their season, the former Bengaluru coach was happy with the desire, aggression and energy the players showed after he took over.
But five defeats after 11 games means ATK stand 12 points far from the top and seven off the final play-offs berth, currently occupied by FC Pune City. Although Westwood chose to jump over the question, Jamshedpur coach Steve Coppell whose side are just three far from the fourth place said, “Looking at the league table, there is a little bit of distance developing between the top four teams and the rest. So it’s up to the rest to make up that distance. We can only make up that distance by winning games.”
A victory against the reigning champions will take them to fifth and if they manage to beat ATK by a 7-0 margin or more, they can displace Pune but an experinced Coppell has his mind off the play-offs — and into the next match.
“To be honest, I’m not thinking about the playoffs. As a coach, I think about the next game. If we can win the next game and I think we can. We need to get more positive results to affect the top four.”
The massive difference between the top four and the rest have been the ability of them to be able to follow up a defeat with convincing wins, that has somehow been missing in the other six but although it’s difficult, Coppell was hopeful of his boys managing a win in the Lion’s den.
While they started as a team strong at the back and compact in defence, attack has taken over. After going four games without conceding and just three in the next three, the ‘Men of Steel’ have conceded seven in the last four.
But the former Reading manager saw this as an usual thing that happens in every league. “We will stay level headed and try to keep a clean-sheet,” he said.
Jamshedpur have lost just twice in six matches on the road but ATK have won just one at home. Another defeat on Sunday may well jeopardise the champions’ chances of a play-offs berth.