The field at the Fatorda stadium is shaped circular as it is used not only for high level football but can also be converted into a cricket stadium having hosted nine ODIs. There is thus, a lot of space behind the goalposts which is used as a warmup area. Despite that space, Luis Machado’s 83rd minute penalty must have found its way into the stands such was its waywardness.
The penalty, had it gone in, would have levelled things up at 2-2 and with the Highlanders in the ascendancy, they would have been the likelier side to get the winner. Khaled Jameel will certainly rue the miss but a positive result would most certainly have been a steal for his side having been second-best for most of the 90 minutes.
ATK Mohun Bagan were uncharacteristically expansive in the first half starting brightly as Javi Hernandez’s long range strike struck the post in the third minute. David Williams and Carl McHugh also had half chances before the clock reached double figures. January signing Lenny Rodrigues should have done better but he could only scuff two shots in quick succession from close range just before the 20th minute.
Jameel had opted to start Mashoor Shereef at centre back ahead of Benjamin Lambo and the decision did not reap its rewards as the 28 year old was repeatedly exposed by Roy Krishna. The Fijian striker turned Mashoor with ease multiple times but did not seem to have his shooting boots on tonight.
Krishna did showcase that he is more than just his goals, splitting Mashoor and right back Ashutosh Mehta with a perfect through ball to strike partner Williams who made no mistake in slotting post Subhashish Roy. The Mariners had a few more half chances before the break but nearly went in level as Machado’s cross was just a tad too high for the incoming Apuia in added on time.
The Highlanders made a much better start to the second half and Suhair nearly equalized but his sharp turn and shot from Federico Gallego’s cutback hit the post. Machado also shot straight at Arindam soon after but it was ATK Mohun Bagan that nearly doubled their lead thanks to Subhashish’s error just after the hour mark. Krishna’s heavy touch from Williams should have been an easy collect for the NorthEast captain but he lost the ball but his blushes were spared by a heroic goal line clearance from Mehta.
The Mariners’ did put the tie seemingly to bed in the 68th minute with a well-worked goal from Manvir Singh. McHugh and Williams played out the ball from the back to Krishna who once again showed his playmaking prowess by playing it wide to Manvir. The makeshift right wing back had been tormenting Gurjinder the entire match but instead of going down the line, he came back on to his weaker left foot and smashed a great finish into the far corner. Manvir, who has been called up to the national team as a striker, has been a revelation on the right side with this strike being his sixth of the season.
Despite their experience, ATK Mohun Bagan failed to kill the game and Suhair brought NorthEast right back into the game nodding in from close range after Arindam’s weak parry from a Lambo header rebounded off the bar into his path. The Highlanders built up pressure which came to a crescendo with Subhashish Bose needlessly going through the back of Idrissa Sylla leaving the referee no choice but to award a spot kick. Post the miss, Jameel’s boys could not create anything of note as ATK Mohun Bagan ran the clock down.
For NorthEast, the final proved to be a step too far but their performances are nonetheless beacons of hope in coming seasons. ATK Mohun Bagan will be looking for their first title under the new merged brand against Mumbai City in the final to make up for their disappointment for losing out on the league winners’ shield last Sunday.