Quite understandably, ISL newbies Jamshedpur FC were excited about hosting their first home game. So much so that a half an hour before the match against ATK, the 23,800 spectators packed into as many seats at the JRD Tata Stadium were treated to a glittering fireworks display.
Speaking from the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Jamshedpur FC had tempted fate a little by this premature celebration.
Within minutes it was clear that the stadium pitch was not up to the task of hosting a professional football game. By the end of the match, multiple players had slipped or found their foot caught on the unsteady turf. "It was as bad as I've seen a professional football pitch. It was horrendous. It made it impossible to play the kind of football the two teams had to play. There was no way we could have played the way we wanted," Teddy Sheringham, coach of Kolkata, said following the match.
"It was a concern for the players. After five minutes, I turned around and said this could get really bad. We could get bad injuries on that surface. We were lucky we didn't get any injuries tonight," Sheringham noted.
Steve Coppell, coach of the Jamshedpur FC, agreed with the assessment of the ground. "People have been working hard over the last four months to create a world class stadium. There was such a huge commitment from everyone to make this a beautiful playing surface but obviously the pitch didn't live up to its billing. It is a work in progress. Just like so many things are in Jamshedpur."
Owing largely to the uneven nature of the turf, the match itself was a rather drab affair, ending 0-0 after full time. The result might have won Jamshedpur a solitary point to follow two previous draws, but their glass is more empty than full. The game on Friday was their third consecutive game in which they had not scored. Both teams had their chances and neither side converted. If ATK had a goal ruled offside, Jamshedpur had two near-identical opportunities in the first half. On both occasions, Sameehg Doutie sent in a perfectly-weighted through ball towards Jerry Mawihmingthanga on the right flank. In the first instance, in the 27th minute, Jerry smashed into the side netting, while in the second case in the 40th minute, the strike found the outer edge of the post.
It were the two goalkeepers, Subrata Pal for the home team and Albert Jussi Jaaskelainen, who would become the heroes of the day. Pal made a point-blank save in the 47th minute when he reflexively palmed a Robin Singh poke of a Prabir Das through ball. For Kolkata, Jaaskelainen threw himself full stretch to his right to push away a strike by Farukh Choudhary in the 57th minute to keep the score goalless.
While the rest of his team might not be finding their feet so far, Pal has been having a near-perfect run. A couple of days ago, he had mentioned how special his homecoming to Jamshedpur was. This was the city where his career had been formed at the Tata Football Academy (TFA). "Everything I had learned was from this city. Now it is my turn to contribute with what all I have learned," he had told ESPN. Pal wouldn't have known that he would be ably supported in this endeavor by two other Tata Football Academy graduates. Indeed the moment of the match came in the 32nd minute when Pal failed to collect a strike cleanly. The loose ball fell in front of two ATK strikers -- Robin Singh and Hitesh Sharma. Of the two, Sharma, who only graduated from the academy last year, was several feet offside. Instead of noticing where his partner -- a graduate of the 2009 batch -- was, Shah struck past Paul. Almost immediately, he realized his mistake even as the linesman's flag went up and Singh looked at him with his palms raised incredulously.
That would be the closest either team actually got to getting on the scoreboard.