The Indian Super League completed its seventh match week with ATK grabbing a 3-2 win over struggling holders Chennaiyin FC.
This marked a successful week for the Kolkata club, with a 0-0 draw against FC Goa that must have felt like a win. Sergio Lobera’s side were prevented from scoring through the 90 minutes for the first time this season.
Bengaluru won two close matches with a couple of late winners, first Udanta Singh popping up with a winner against Delhi Dynamos, followed by Rahul Bheke’s second Indian Super League goal of the season. The Dynamos later lost 2-4 to Mumbai City at home, thus keeping them at the foot of the table and the only team without a win this ISL season.
Coppell’s ATK show both facets of their game
On paper, ATK versus Goa must have seemed like the match-up between polar opposites, the master of parking the cruise liner, Steve Coppell versus the shaman of haywire, break-down-the-fences Lobera.
Goa had only failed to score in three of their previous 28 ISL matches. They had struck 22 times in eight games this season. Conversely, they had only kept one clean sheet this season.
The game itself, was a statistical mismatch, ATK had 34% of the possession, barely one-third. Goa completed 526 passes with an accuracy of 82% to the home side’s 142, which were 55% of the attempted 259. The Gaurs also had six shots on target, four more than their opponents and were perhaps unlucky not to be awarded a penalty.
Make no mistake, this was a win for Coppell’s dogged approach, shutting down his counterpart’s free-flowing style. Against Chennaiyin, ATK were lucky to be awarded their second penalty after the referee seemingly ignored a push in the build-up to the award of the spot-kick.
Level on points with fourth-placed Jamshedpur, ATK have dragged themselves back into the play-offs mix after two opening losses.
For Goa, a loss and a draw in their last two games won’t mean panic stations just yet. But they are now in third with only two points separating them from fifth. Qualification for the play-offs, once a given, may not be as certain anymore.
Bengaluru grit themselves out of not one, but two holes
This column last week mentioned that Bengaluru were more than half-way there to the play-offs. This week, six points meant that the Blues were closer to the magic marks of 30, the points earned by fourth-placed Pune City last season.
Sitting on 22 points, Bengaluru are almost three-fourths of the way there. The Dynamos were unlucky not to have taken something away from the Kanteerava Stadium as the capital side had the better chances to kill the game.
They had six shots on target, including some that should really have been taken. Their inability to seize the initiative has been the story of their season and Josep Gombau can only sit and marvel at the inefficiency in front of goal. Udanta Singh’s late winner was a kick in the teeth.
Rahul Bheke was the man in the thick of the action for Bengaluru against Pune City, scoring an own goal and then popping up with a late, late goal from close range, assisted by Harmanjot Khabra. The clamour for the defender’s inclusion in the national team grows louder by the day.
The past seven days didn’t see Bengaluru at their best, far from it. Champion sides know how to counter adversity and these six points could mean that Bengaluru could sit on 31 points should they win their next three matches. That could mean qualification for the knock-outs sorted before the Asian Cup even begins.
The Highlanders jumped into second place on the back of a win in Pune and a draw at the JRD Tata Stadium in Jamshedpur. These four away points could be invaluable, come the end of the season and the eccentric Eelco Schattorie does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
Having failed to reach the play-offs in all four seasons previously, this does seem like NorthEast’s best chance. Their next test, the one against Bengaluru could be one to determine how far they’ve come since their miserable last-placed finish last time around.
Schattorie’s team are creeping up the table, over and above much fancied rivals. Come this Wednesday, Eelco’s team will face off against the best of them all, the domestic giants from Karnataka.