FC Goa Equalize Late To Spoil ATK Mohun Bagan's Party
Picture Credits: sportstar.thehindu.com
While league-leaders Mumbai City FC have clearly been the big kahuna of this season, ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa have also impressed with their performances. Both the teams approach the game with diametrically opposite styles, but they constitute the chasing pack as they sit in second and third in the table respectively.
Sunday’s clash at the Fatorda Stadium was paramount for both sides as the Mariners had the opportunity to cut short Mumbai City FC’s lead at the top to three points since the Islanders drew with Hyderabad FC the day before. On the other hand, FC Goa had the chance to temporarily overtake Antonio López Habas’ side and climb to second place in the standings.
Having faced stick for their below-par attacking output in the crucial loss against Mumbai City FC in their previous match, the Mariners tried to rectify that from the word go. They pressed high, attempted to snatch the ball in the offensive positions and shoot as early as possible. David Williams and Roy Krishna’s organized press exposed Naveen Kumar’s poor distribution and troubled him throughout the first half. Within the first five minutes, the Mariners already had three shots. Although they missed the target on each occasion till the 18th minute, the will and desire to stay aggressive was visible.
This desire however did not manifest into something worthwhile, and soon the game assumed the pattern that was expected from it. The Gaurs began to dominate the ball – they ended up with 69% possession and 492 passes as opposed to ATK Mohun Bagan’s 221.
With his deft touches, clever turns, and slick passing, Alberto Noguera, who already has four assists this season, was Juan Ferrando’s side’s creative nous. The Spanish midfielder combined well with the likes of Edu Bedia and Brandon Fernandes, and often unlocked the overlapping fullbacks – Seriton Fernandes and Saviour Gama – both of whom had solid games.
Despite FC Goa’s ascendency on the ball, it was the Mariners who created better openings in the first half. In the 18th minute, Carl McHugh played a lobbed, incising pass for Prabir Das that cut open FC Goa’s left side of the defense. However, Das’ shot was saved with relative ease by Kumar. Then in the 27th minute, Subhasish Bose’s header from Edu Garcia’s corner grazed the crossbar. The Gaurs retaliated by hitting the woodwork themselves four minutes later. The rest of the half was very cagey without any team being able to break the shackles.
The second half followed a similar pattern as the first. The Gaurs tried to express themselves on the ball and continually built momentum, while for Habas’ team the only creative outlets remained set-pieces and ball retrievals in the attacking half of the pitch.
Against the run of play, in the 75th minute, the Mariner – who have scored 50% of their goals from set-pieces – finally dismantled the deadlock through another set-piece. After Krishna was fouled by James Donachie from behind just outside the box, Edu Garcia, wrong-footing the goalkeeper, scored a scintillating free-kick. It is telling that in their last six games, ATK Mohun Bagan have scored only once through open play.
After going 1-0 up with the quarter of the game left, the Mariners, who have the joint-most clean sheets in the league (7) and have won 1-0 on four occasions, should have felt at home. However, there was to be a twist in the tale.
FC Goa’s 11 out of 16 goals, before this game, had arrived in the second half, and six of them came after the 75th minute. This match did not disappoint as the super-sub Ishan Pandita equalized in the 84th minute, scoring his second goal of the season from the bench.
After that, the game flared up. Both teams had opportunities to steal all the points. In the 88th minute, again from a set-piece, the Mariner’s substitute, Manvir Singh smashed the crossbar again. FC Goa reverted by creating a flurry of half-chances in injury time, only to see Gama and Jorge Ortiz Mendoza drag their shots well-wide. The Gaurs certainly missed their star-striker and leading goal scorer of the ISL, Igor Angulo. It was hinted that he couldn’t feature because of his illness.
In a game where both teams traded punches and missed most, both would perhaps look back at the end result with regret and disappointment in their eyes. The Mariners had the game in their grasp, right where they would have wanted it, while the Gaurs played the better and more fluent football. The real winner of the result would be Mumbai City FC as they increased their lead at the point to five points.