After exceeding expectations and reaching the final as dark horses in the inaugural season of the ISL, Kerala Blasters underperformed massively in the second edition of the competition and disappointed their supporters, and now look set for a rock-bottom finish.
The Sachin Tendulkar co-owned side managed just three wins from their 13 matches, losing seven. With one game remaining, the Blasters have nothing left to play for - not even pride. Let's take a look at some of the aspects which went wrong for the Kochi-based outfit this year.
For starters, the Blasters didn't really have any stars or influential players, unlike the other seven teams in the league. Despite reaching the final last year, the team management seemed to have preferred against an improvement on the overall squad and worked with a limited budget this time.
The only high-profile name the Blasters had in their ranks this season was Carlos Marchena, a World Cup-winner with Spian in 2010, but the former Valencia defender struggled with a back injury throughout and played only less than 50 minutes the whole season.
Sanchez Watt, an Arsenal product and the second most popular name in the Blasters line-up, also has had his fair share with injury and fitness issues - like he had throughout his career - and left the team at a crucial juncture in the season.
The decision not to offer last year's talisman Iain Hume a new contract also didn't help proceedings. To give some perspective of the difference he makes, the Canadian forward, who joined defending champions Atletico de Kolkata, scored nine goals so far this season and has been the driving force behind ATK's rise to the top of the ISL table.
Speaking of working with a limited budget, the lack of a good preseason and proper preparations also hurt the Blasters. The Kerala team was the only ISL side to have decided against going abroad for preseason this year and was content with playing local semi-pro teams, like the KSEB, to test their strengths and weaknesses, ahead of what was surely going to be a competitive season.
Preparing abroad with the superior facilities available there was always going to give the others team an edge. Pune City star and former Blasters player Sushanth Mathew had stressed on the importance of his team having their preseason in Turkey and how it helped them to get off to a good start in the ISL.
The Blasters also lacked a poacher in the mould of Chennaiyin FC's Stiven Mendoza (10 goals) and FC Goa's Reinaldo (7). Though Chris Dagnall (5), Antonio German (5) and Mohammed Rafi (4) all find themselves among the top-scorers of the season, depending on the chances they had their conversion rates aren't impressive and majority of their goals came in losing causes.
The sacking of Peter Taylor, almost midway into the season, also didn't leave a good impression on the foreign players. The former England U-21 boss is respected in his homeland and had played an instrumental role in English players like Stephen Bywater, Peter Ramage, Chris Dagnall, Marcus Williams, Antonio German and Sanchez Watt joining the side.
The younger players like Watt and German must have come to India in the hope of rejuvenating their careers under Taylor, expecting that they could impress Taylor and find a potential suitor in England after the ISL season is over, as the veteran manager could put in a good word for them.
Also, the decision to appoint Terry Phelan, who had no prior coaching experience at the senior level and was not familair with the players at all, raises questions on the board's decision-making skills overall. The management could have left the reins for the rest of the season to assistant coach Trevor Morgan, who was with the team since its inception and has done an impressive job.
Here's hoping the Blasters learn from their mistakes and work on assembling a better unit for ISL 2016. They owe at least that much to the fans and their unconditonal support.