Jorge Costa was livid on the touchline. His team were trailing by two goals to ATK at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday and for all the dominance and urgency they displayed in the second-half, the Mumbai City manager was expecting a response from his men.
That out of somewhere, they might find a way to keep their six-match unbeaten streak intact. That out of somewhere, his team would showcase their character and continue the winning momentum at home where they had just won once.
At the full-time whistle, Costa lost his cool and made his emotions clear. He directed a tirade towards the match officials, avoiding the camera whenever it was being pointed at him. It was over a controversial decision in the second-half where Modou Sougou had a goal disallowed after the Mumbai City forward made light contact with ATK goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja during the 82nd minute.
That was Mumbai City’s best chance of the game and could have spurred them on for an equaliser but by that time, the damage had already been done.
The tactical battle was won by Costa’s counterpart Antonio Lopez Habas as first half-goals from Pranoy Halder and Michael Soosairaj saw the visitors cruise to the top of the table.
However, during the opening exchanges, it was Costa who was edging the duel against Habas. At the eve of the matchday, Costa mentioned he was prepared even if ATK sprung a change in their system, who usually prefer a three-man backline.
On Saturday, ATK tweaked their formation, going with a four-man defense and the home side had done their homework.
Bright start for Mumbai City
Right from the first whistle, Mumbai City had ATK on the ropes. In the absence of Paulo Machado, Mohamed Larbi was the livewire in midfield for the home team, combining well with wingers Diego Carlos and Modou Sougou in the box. Full-backs Subhashish Bose and Souvik Chakrabati pushed up high as Mumbai City mainly attacked through crosses.
But that attacking verve strangely didn’t continue for long enough, lasting for only about a quarter. ATK, who had managed to stave off pressure till then, ran the Mumbai defense ragged for the rest of the first-half. They denied Mumbai City possession of the ball and the license to launch attacks from wide spaces.
Midfielder Javi Hernandez, was crucial in the buildup for ATK, dropping in between the lines and battling for the second balls. The Spaniard was ably supported by Roy Krishna who played off David Williams.
Both of ATK’s first-half goals were assisted by Krishna, who was clever while picking the pockets of spaces in midfield and peppering passes in behind the Mumbai City defense.
An injury to Halder just after the opener forced Habas to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, with Michael Soosairaj coming on. And with a two-goal cushion in their favour at the break, the visitors felt it was best to sit back and burst forward on the counter.
The second-half was all about Mumbai City who pressed and squeezed ATK in their own box. With ATK staying firm in defense to protect their lead, Larbi kept switching positions with Carlos on the wing that left Raynier Fernandes with a major responsibility of keeping play ticking in midfield.
Costa sensed the issue and brought on Bidyananda Singh, sacrificing Chakrabarti to assert more control in midfield with Fernandes dropping at right-back. The passing patterns and movements were much more fluid following that change but what cost the Islanders was the lack of finishing.
Sougou’s disallowed goal was sandwiched by two wasted opportunities by both Larbi and substitute Serge Kevyn from point-blank ranges. The Islanders had fired 30 crosses compared to six from ATK but failed to convert even one.
Not a team that usually dominates possession, Mumbai City were undoubtedly better than the opposition on all fronts barring the elusive finishing touch in front of goal.
”We played a fantastic match defensively considering the situation. The opponent did have chances, but my defensive line played well. Our idea was to play on counter attacks because Mumbai can play good long balls and we had to control the situation,” Habas explained as his side climbed top of the standings, level on points with FC Goa.
ATK had implemented the same strategy in their scrappy 1-0 victory against Bengaluru FC –getting bodies behind the ball to shield their lead – and did it here again to emerge winners.
Costa maintained that the result was not a fair reflection of the effort put in by his team.
”I asked the right-back [Chakrabarti] to help more in attack because ATK had a lot of players in the middle, and we had a lot of players on the left and right. Also, [Rowllin] Borges and Raynier [Fernandes] were first to be there for the second balls. We had some chances, enough to finish the game,” the Portuguese said at the post-match presser.
”Today was not a fair result. We had clear chances to score. We worked, we played. There’s nothing to say. Days like these are difficult,” he added.
Despite the defeat, Mumbai City still find themselves in fourth place after a sluggish start to the season. But for a team that has managed to eke out just two clean sheets this season, the failure to convert chances and close down games like these might come back to haunt them.