ATK booked their place in the final of the sixth edition of Indian Super League with a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Bengaluru FC in the second leg of the semi-final. The Kolkata side clinched the tie 3-2 on aggregate at the Salt Lake stadium on Sunday.
A brace from David Williams that included a superb headed winner and a first-half strike from Roy Krishna were enough to send the two-time champions through despite Ashique Kuruniyan’s crucial away goal early on in the game for the defending champions.
Habas’ men will now face Chennaiyin FC in the final at Goa’s Fatorda stadium on Saturday in a battle of former two-time champions.
Starting in a 4-3-3 formation instead of using a three-man defence, Bengaluru FC put Kuruniyan out wide on the right. His pace caused ATK all sorts of problems on the counter-attack in the first half.
Bengaluru FC needed just five minutes to open ATK through that route as Francisco Borges found Kuruniyan with a brilliant through ball. Prabir Das made his task easier by lunging in as the BFC man was able to evade his challenge unopposed at the ATK goal and slot a cool finish past Arindam Bhattacharja. That goal gave Bengaluru an early lead and double their advantage on aggregate, making ATK’s task harder. The hosts needed to win by a clear two-goal margin now and that is exactly what they did.
In the 11th minute, the home side had a chance to equalise straight away when Williams managed to receive the ball in space in the Bengaluru FC box only for him to shoot over the target.
Bengaluru FC continued to carry a threat on the break using Kuruniyan as the outlet who cut into his left foot but fired his effort over as ATK got off the hook in the 19th minute.
Six minutes later, the winger drifted inside to receive the pass and ran straight at the heart of the ATK defence before unleashing a low drive that was straight at Arindam in the ATK goal, much to the relief of the Kolkata faithful.
Just when it appeared that Bengaluru may run away with the contest, ATK produced a real moment of quality. Williams laid it out wide for Das in space who delivered a teasing cross at the near post for Krishna who sent the ball Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with a deft touch.
Despite the equaliser, ATK needed two more goals to advance thanks to Bengaluru’s away-goal advantage. They almost scored a second through the same route three minutes later when Das floated in a cross that just evaded Krishna in the centre of the box.
Bengaluru managed to curb the flow of ATK attacks as the first half drew to a close with the defending champions in the ascendancy.
Bengaluru FC looked to suck the rhythm out of ATK’s play by maintaining possession at the start of the second half, but soon ATK gained control and started pushing Bengaluru FC back.
The increasing pressure drew an error from young Suresh Wangjam who tripped Williams inside the box to give away a penalty. However, replays suggested that the Australian went down way too easily after the contact.
Williams though stepped up to score from the spot, sending Gurpreet the wrong way to put ATK ahead on the night and a goal away from the final.
Cuadrat responded by bringing off the goalscorer for Udanta Singh, but the move seemed to backfire as Bengaluru lost their attacking edge. They remained a threat on set-plays though and almost scored in the 70th minute when a drilled cross from a Chhetri free-kick was flicked inches wide of the target by Dimas Delgado.
The Blues slowed the game down, taking time on their set-plays and playing risk-free passes in order to take the sting out of the game. They managed to disturb ATK’s rhythm and carved out a gilt-edged chance for substitute Kevaughn Frater who despite having time and space inside the ATK box failed to finish past Arindam who made a fine save in the 75th minute.
Bengaluru were made to rue that miss four minutes later as ATK scored through a stunning Williams header. Das eked out a cross under pressure that found Williams just inside the box, but the Australian managed to direct a fierce header from distance that sailed past Gurpreet in goal to send the Salt Lake stadium into delirium.
The header gave the Kolkata side the lead on aggregate for the first time in the tie and they had Arindam to thank for preserving that in the 88th minute when he denied Erik Paartalu from close range.
Two minutes later, Das who had two assists to his name on the night, made a crucial clearance to deny Bengaluru a certain goal in the final minute of the match.
ATK held on in stoppage time to seal their passage to their third final in six years and end Bengaluru FC’s title defence.