Kerala Blasters' search for the first win of the season continued after a frustrating goalless draw at home against Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League on Sunday.
While the point helped Kerala open their account, they are yet to score a goal this season. Meanwhile, Delhi remained unbeaten and moved third in the table after two impressive results on the road.
Chances were few and far in between as each side managed just one effort each on goal throughout the match. The best chance of the game fell to KBFC striker Michael Chopra, whose effort was saved by a diving Toni Doblas in the closing moments of the first half. The goalkeeper, who was subbed in the second half due to injury, was one of Delhi's best players on the night, coming off his line several times to deny the hosts a clear opportunity.
Sandesh Jhingan was Kerala's best performer, chipping in with crucial tackles and decisive clearances throughout the game to get his first clean sheet of the season.
Steve Coppell made three changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Atletico de Kolkata on Wednesday. Sandip Nandy came in for Graham Stack in goal, while Farukh Choudhary and Ouzin Ndoye made way for Azrack Mahamat and Michael Chopra respectively, as the hosts opted for the same 3-5-3 formation - with Josu and Rafique working as wingbacks.
Gianluca Zambrotta also brought in three changes, with marquee player Florent Malouda starting in place of Memo. Senegalese forward Badara Badji, who scored Delhi's third goal against Chennaiyin FC in the last game, was selected ahead of Richard Gadze. In defence, Lalchhawnkima replaced Anas Edathodika, who picked up a groin injury in the previous game. Delhi went in with a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Malouda playing as a no. 10 behind Badji.
"We need to make this a fortress for these fantastic fans," KBFC striker Michael Chopra had said before kick-off.
Chopra went on to create the hosts' first half-chance in the fifth minute, heading a lofted ball into the box, but Toni Doblas came off his line to collect comfortably ahead of the onrushing Rafique. In the ninth minute, following some shaky defensive work from Delhi, he nearly got to the end of a cross from Josu as the home team pushed forward. In the 12th minute, Chopra got his first shot away, as the Delhi defense backed off to allow him space at the edge of the box.
Kerala kept the pressure on in the opening exchanges, with Sandesh Jhingan and Hengbart going forward for every set-piece opportunity. Jhingan almost put his team in trouble in the 28th minute, trying to dribble his way past Kean Lewis, who closed him down well to win the ball momentarily, but the defender recovered in time to put it out for a corner.
The best chance of the half came in the 45th minute following a host of set pieces for the home side. Chopra timed his run well to collect a long ball inside the Delhi box and get his shot away, but Doblas dove to his right to pull off a good save to keep it goalless at half-time. Moments earlier, the goalkeeper had come off his line to punch away a promising cross from Mehtab Hossain.
Delhi earned a corner early on in the second half, but Malouda's delivery was cleared long, nearly resulting into a Kerala break, which was denied to the home side by Rocha, who tracked back well. Kerala then had a decent chance from a set piece on the left wing, with Josu launching it into a dangerous area. Doblas came off the line to clear and while the ball went to safety, the goalkeeper injured himself in the process. He was replaced by Soram Poirei moments later.
In the 60th minute, Badji won a free kick on the right-side edge of the Kerala box and Marcelo's left-footed delivery was cleared well by Jhingan. Hengbart, whose challenge from behind had resulted in the set-piece, was lucky not to receive a second yellow for the offence. And it wasn't a surprise to see the Kerala skipper substituted in the 64th minute, making way for Ouzin Ndoye.
Delhi made their second change in the 66th minute, bringing on former Chennaiyin player Bruno Pelissari for Kean Lewis. The visitors had a penalty shout in the 70th minute as Badji went down under a challenge from Ndoye inside the Kerala box, but it was turned down.
Marcelinho, the two-goal hero from the previous game created an opening through some individual brilliance in the 73rd minute, going past two defenders before crossing it from the right side, but Jhingan was there to clear it once again.
Delhi made their final change in the 75th minute, bringing on 20-year-old Rupert Nongrum for Duckens Nazon.
Kervens Belfort put in a great cross inside the box in the 80th minute, but Chopra failed to connect with the ball. A minute later, Chopra created space on his own and made a promising run inside the box before going down and appealing for a penalty. But he earned himself a yellow card for simulation.
The game opened up in the closing stages, with chances at both ends. Marcos Tebar's diving header, which looked destined for the bottom right corner was swept clear by a diving Jhingan. There was more spark to follow moments later, as Ndoye and Pelissari got into a squabble when the latter went for a dangerous shot after the whistle was blown.
Six minutes were added due to the time lost during Doblas' injury. Delhi defended deep while the home side pressed forward, but failed to create a clear opening as the game ended in a goalless draw.