It was a top-of-the-table clash which, in parts, lived up to its billing and, in parts, did not. Bengaluru FC came away with the points but FC Goa could have very easily salvaged a draw had they not fluffed late chances in their Indian Super League encounter on Thursday.
Both teams finished with 10 men as a promising second half proved to be a more open affair with spaces opening up. Rahul Bheke got the goal that put Bengaluru in front. Mohamed Ali was sent off for two bad decisions on his part, while Dimas Delgado’s straight red balanced the scales.
Goa got their equaliser only to lose the momentum almost immediately. The match was overshadowed by the absence of key players in both starting line-ups and the decisions to replace them playing a part in the outcome.
Assuming they finish first and second, these teams are still favourites to play in the final, and Lobera will get one more chance in Bengaluru FC to test his tactics before a possible end-of-season match.
Edu Bedia’s injury a huge blow to Goa
Sergio Lobera’s problems with his defence have been well documented and came to the fore during Goa’s 1-4 loss to Jamshedpur FC. The introduction of Hugo Boumous in midfield came at the expense of Edu Bedia, the Spanish playmaker, who was very influential in Goa’s early campaign this season.
The rationale was the inclusion of Carlos Pena at left-back, a spot never suited to the abilities of Mandar Rao Dessai, who has been found wanting on many an occasion. The extra foreigner in defence has led to an Indian presence in the Gaurs’ midfield, a significant change from the earlier parts of the campaign.
Boumous, the driving force in the absence of Bedia, was unable to re-create the Spaniard’s creative output as Coro was forced to drop deep at times, spraying the ball out to the wings. Later Lobera would clarify that Bedia was not risked as he had developed a groin strain prior to the game.
Bengaluru over-ran Goa in midfield, with Dimas dropping deep to accommodate Xisco, replacing Erik Partaalu. There were questions over who would replace Miku, but it was Chencho Gyeltshen who was given the nod up front. The Bhutanese wasn’t flashy, but he closed Goa down regularly allowing the likes of Chhetri and Udanta Singh to pounce on the rebounds.
Goa, a free-scoring outfit, struggled with the final ball. Their in-form striker, Coro, had to rely on the deep-lying Ahmed Jahouh for service. Without a shorter passing game, the Bengaluru backline stepped up to trap Goa offside time and again. Bedia should be restored to the starting line-up, yet Lobera will consider this a chance missed to stop BFC’s momentum in the league.
Rahul Bheke, defensive dynamo
Bheke’s back-heel might have certainly made the highlights reel, yet it is his work at the other end of the pitch which should be applauded, given the close nature of the game.
Very few will beat Albert Serran this season, but Manvir Singh eluded him in the dying moments. However, it was Bheke popping up and applying pressure to ensure that he didn’t get a clean shot away.
Boumous was close to equalising for Goa two minutes prior, but it was Bheke again, running interference close to the goal-line, preventing the Moroccan from tapping it in. There were questions about contact on Boumous, yet the BFC man’s efforts to prevent the goal were commendable.
Described as the hardest-working member of this BFC backline, calls for Bheke’s inclusion in Stephen Constantine’s India team only grow louder. With less than two months to go for the Asian Cup, it is unlikely that Pritam Kotal will make way.
Bengaluru halfway to play-off spot
Chennaiyin coach John Gregory had projected that 29 points would be enough for teams to seal a play-off spot this season. Last time around, it was 30 points that was the magic mark, in a hectic mid-table jam.
This season, with a gulf between the top five and the rest, that mark might well be the same or lower. Bengaluru are now on 16 points after six matches, with crucial victories earned away from home.
With one-third of the matches done and more to come at home than away, the Blues could coast till gameweek 12 and still make the play-offs with plenty to spare. Goa at home were possibly their toughest test of the season, and three points made for a happy return.
The Blues are yet to play five matches against the league’s bottom four and a win in each would take them to 31 points, with seven other games to spare. Last season, they finished with 40 points, eight points clear of their closest rivals, Chennaiyin FC.
Their last league loss came on matchday 10 of the 2017-’18 season against the Delhi Dynamos, and this made it 14 ISL league games without a loss. They have Delhi, Pune City, NorthEast United, Mumbai City and ATK to face before the league breaks for the Asian Cup. Their only away game in this stretch takes place in Guwahati.
Three or more wins out of these five and Carlos Cuadrat’s men could again be the first to cement a place in the late season action.