Bengaluru have kept their playoff hopes alive with a crucial win against second-placed Mumbai City…
Mumbai City were the clear favourites going into Monday’s Indian Super League (ISL) fixture against a struggling Bengaluru.
The Blues had lost their last four matches against the Islanders. Lobera’s team is the highest scorers and has the second-best defence in the league so beating them was a monumental task. But the Blues managed to do it and pick up a vital victory in their quest for a spot in the playoffs.
Bengaluru struck early in the game and that was the key to unsettling a Mumbai City team who usually take time to settle into their rhythm and exert their dominance over the opponents in games. The Islanders had failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four matches so it was not about if Bengaluru can score, it was more about how soon they can do it.
And they did within seconds. Sunil Chhetri started the move with a pass to release Udanta Singh into space down the right flank. The winger crossed into the box for Cleiton Silva who slotted home the opening goal. Mumbai City were shell-shocked and by scoring early and first, the Blues successfully forced their opponents to play the game according to the tempo set by the team in the lead.
The game soon became entertaining for the neutrals with both keepers being called into action one by one. But it was Bengaluru again who turned out to be more efficient in front of goal. The Blues scored their 11th set-piece goal of the season as Cleiton Silva converted a Xisco Hernandez free-kick sent into the box from the right flank.
Mumbai City were allowed to have the ball and Blues were unconcerned with their dominance. They were in no mood to press high up the field for the entire game and instead, chose to sit back and use the pace of their frontline to hit the Islanders on counter-attacks.
The Islanders, without Hugo Boumous to dictate proceedings, ended up being defensive with the ball at their feet and Sergio Lobera brought on Jackichand Singh in place midfielder Rowllin Borges to infuse more width into their game.
Mumbai came out after the break with a point to prove after a lacklustre start to the game and they scored within five minutes. Cy Goddard, who impressed with his runs throughout the game, found Adam Le Fondre with a pass into the box and the striker got in front of his marker Harmanjot Khabra and found the net.
However, Bengaluru were playing with a sort of intent that has been missing in their displays this season and it took them seven minutes to restore their two-goal advantage. Sunil Chhetri, even in his 200th appearance, ran like he would have done on his debut, to beat Hernan Santana to a long goal kick from Gurpreet Sandhu and beat Amrinder Singh who had come off his line inexplicably.
There was end-to-end football for the neutrals’ eyes to feast in the second half as Amrinder and Gurpreet were kept busy in between the sticks by the attackers on the field. Goddard, arguably Mumbai’s best player on the pitch, assisted Le Fondre again with a lovely ball into the box with the striker heading in to bring his team back into the game.
Gurpreet was Bengaluru’s hero at the back as he pulled off a terrific fingertip save to deny Le Fondre from close range after Goddard had once again picked out the striker with a good through ball.
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) February 15, 2021
The Blues defended as a unit and every single Bengaluru player wanted to secure a win and that made all the difference. Chhetri scored his second from a counter-attack late in the game to seal three crucial points in his team’s race for the top four.
Sergio Lobera will be concerned by how the team is performing towards the business end of the season. A bit of complacency seem to have crept in and it has affected their performances. In the last five games, Mumbai have managed to win just one game and kept a cleansheet in none of them. Their play-off rival, ATK Mohun Bagan, have won four of their last five games, to put things in perspective.