ATK Mohun Bagan and NorthEast United walked away on level terms after the first leg of their Indian Super League semi-final. The second leg, on Tuesday at the Fatorda Stadium, will decide if NorthEast will play their first final or if Antonio Habas leads his side to a third one.
Bagan was denied a win in the first leg by a late Idrissa Sylla header, a result that mounted pressure on Habas’ side, who haven’t been at their best off late.
The Kolkata team has had a solid defence throughout the season, having conceded just 15 goals in the league stage. But the team has conceded five goals in their last three games which cost them the ISL League Winners Shield as well as an advantage in the first leg.
However, coach Habas feels such situations do arise in the games where players tend to lose concentration and he looked relaxed ahead of the second-leg. “There is no pressure. It’s all about a big opportunity and this opportunity wouldn’t come again. We have to enjoy now. We have to give our best and enjoy the semi-finals,” he said.
Nonetheless, that late goal against NorthEast United would have slightly dented their confidence. In the first leg, Highlanders’ fighting spirit prevailed over the Mariners’ ruthlessness
When questioned about his approach against Khalid Jamil’s side, who are unbeaten in the last 10 games, Habas replied he had instructed his players to stay calm. “Strategy is to keep calm and keep the intensity and to try to win. It’s more important to play with calmness and to go through to the final,” he said.
Bagan will bank on David Williams and Roy Krishna on Tuesday as the duo has never failed to contribute with goals at this stage.
For NorthEast, who are unbeaten under Jamil, it will be their first-ever final, provided they beat ATKMB.
“We have to focus on getting the result as it is a do-or-die game,” stated Jamil. “There is always pressure. I have told the boys to enjoy this pressure. Both teams have to fight for a result because of no away goals, so it is the same for our opponent as well.”
“We will have to create more scoring opportunities and put them under pressure. One team will have to outscore the other in this one as a draw will create the added load of 30 minutes,” he said.
Jamil will hope to have the services of Deshorn Brown for the second leg. The centre-forward signed from Benagluru FC has hit the ground running at NorthEast United and his absence was felt in the first leg until Sylla came on.
As for Habas, he will be hoping to bring back Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri into the starting line-up to lend more stability to the defence that has been leaky of late.
With Mumbai City FC reaching the final for the first time in their history, NorthEast United will find added motivation to do the same and reach their first-ever final.
There was not a lot to choose between the two teams in the first leg and considering the two managers’ safety-first approach, few inches will be given. Both coaches put their emphasis on defence and hence goals are expected to be at a premium.