For the second season in a row, ATK Mohun Bagan let slip an opportunity to win the league and secure a spot for the AFC Champions League after losing 2-0 to Mumbai City with goals from Mourtada Fall and Bart Ogbeche. The Islanders will become the second team to play in the AFC Champions League after FC Goa, who edged out ATK Mohun Bagan for the league title last year.
Sergio Lobera sent several heads spinning an hour before kickoff with his lineup - Adam le Fondre and Ogbeche started together for just the fourth time in the league and in-form Cy Goddard missed out while 21 year old winger Pranjal Bhumij made just his third appearance of the season.
In additional time of the first half, Hernan Santan flicked an Ahmed Jahouh delivery just wide of the post with Arindam stranded. That summed up their first 45 minutes - everything they tried came off (nearly).
It was an open start to the match with the Mariners’ leading scorer Roy Krishna stinging the palms of Amrinder Singh, who parried well, from a narrow angle. Mumbai City immediately countered with Carl McHugh having to clear twice from Adam le Fondre’s crosses.
The breakthrough came for Lobera’s men in the seventh minute through a Fall header. Jahouh pinged a pin-point free kick over Tiri and the league’s highest scoring defender was not going to miss a free header from just outside the six yard box.
Matters went from bad to worse for ATK Mohun Bagan as they lost key man Sandesh Jhingan to injury. The centre back, who came off in the last match against Hyderabad as well, went off for Prabir Das and is now doubtful for the playoffs.
The match entered a patchy phase with both teams struggling to retain possession. The Mariners’ press led by Krishna and Roy Williams forced errors from the Mumbai backline but the quality in the final third was not good enough to create any clear cut chance.
Mumbai doubled their lead in the 39th minute through a likely source supplied by a highly unlikely one. Centre back Hernan Santana struck a peach off a free kick against the crossbar and ISL’s third highest ever scorer Ogbeche nodded in the rebound into the empty net.
The second half was much quieter and even more cagey. Antonio Habas laid all his cards bare, bringing on Edu Garcia for Tiri at half time but nothing he did seemed to work.
ATK Mohun Bagan pushed but were unable to break Mumbai’s surprisingly resolute defence. Prabir Das was their most productive outlet - rattling the crossbar with a strike from distance and playing in Krishna, whose touch let him down. Mumbai threatened several times on the break but failed to put the game to bed.
Krishna and co will perhaps feel that they should have had the job done in their last match against 10-men Hyderabad. Another season of so close yet so far for the Mariners. They will be looking to put these two results behind them as they face red-hot NorthEast United next week in the semifinals.
For Mumbai City, it feels more like expectations fulfilled given their massive outlay ahead of the season. Lobera’s squad and Mumbai fans will be aiming for the double as they gear up to meet familiar faces next weekend in the semis in FC Goa.