"We don't have time. We need to improve as soon as possible. The league is a short one and we are trying to improve," FC Pune City coach Antonio Habas said ahead of his team's crucial fixture against Atletico de Kolkata in the Indian Super League. The Stallions had yet to win at home this season, but for Atletico, this was the ground where they had never tasted victory during the previous two seasons of the tournament.
There was a palpable sense of relief in the 9,000-strong crowd as well as the home dugout when an injured Eduardo Ferreira rose above every Atletico defender on the 41st minute to head in Jonatan Lucca's corner into the back of the net. Eduardo ran off the pitch to celebrate with Habas, with the stoic Spanish coach allowing himself a smile before urging his players to carry on.
Minutes later, Eduardo would have to be substituted owing to a knock on his face, but his final contribution in the match and the celebrations that which followed could act as the turning point FC Pune City so badly needed. Emotions ran high through the rest of the match with players of both clubs being shown yellow cards left and right.
Two second-half penalties brought goals for either side and Atletico made a late charge for the equaliser, but Mohamed Sissoko and Co held on for a morale-boosting win. Here are the key talking points from FC Pune City's first home win of the season:
1. Habas' formation switch worked wonders
Habas opted for a three-man defence with Augustine Fernandes and Gouramangi Singh on either side of Eduardo. While the Stallions had played a similar formation in two earlier matches, against NorthEast United FC and Delhi Dynamos, these three players were coming together for the first time. And there was a stark contrast in the results - Habas' side conceded only six shots against Atletico (their least number this season).
Sissoko and Lenny Rodrigues formed the defensive shield in Habas' 3-5-2 system in which Lucca was allowed to freely roam in between the channels. In spite of the fact that Borja Fernandes and Stephen Pearson completed more number of passes than the two FC Pune City deep midfielders, Sissoko and Rodrigues ensured that Atletico did not get a look in through the central channel.
Atletico had no answer to Lucca's movement as the 22-year-old Brazilian was at his influential best and repeatedly linked up with Anibal Rodriguez. The triumvirate of Lucca, Rodriguez and Dramane Traore were particularly effective in pulling the Atletico backline out of shape - while Traore kept the opposition central defenders occupied, Rodriguez dropped deep or took up a relatively wide position, opening up space for Lucca to operate in.
2. Atletico de Kolkata pays the price for poor decision-making
Atletico were guilty of poor decision-making on all aspects of the game but were particularly toothless while going forward. Over-hit crosses, misplaced passes in the attacking third and a distinct lack of composure in one-on-one situations spelled doom for Atletico.
With the exception of Helder Postiga, who was once again the stand-out player among all of Atletico's attackers, the rest were underwhelming.
One of the prime examples of Atletico's poor decision-making came in the 90th minute when Borja skied his shot from six yards away, after Edel Bete (who was unconvincing throughout the entire match) had failed to collect Javier Lara's corner.
"We are playing well. Today we couldn't win, that's sad. But we will not become crazy about one result. We are working in the right way and we will try to continue that," Atletico coach Jose Molina said, seemingly unfazed with the loss.
3. Atletico de Kolkata must be more proactive
For the third consecutive match, Atletico did not react until after they had gone behind in the scoresheet. With the abundance of riches Atletico possesses in their attacking department, it has been surprising that the likes of Sameehg Doutie and Iain Hume have not dominated opposition defenders on a more consistent basis.
Atletico, except for their match against FC Goa, have not scored a goal in the first half. In their two losses against the two Maharashtra clubs, Molina's side failed to register even a single shot on target in the first period of 45 minutes. It is not as much the lack of talent, but the lack of intent which has cost Atletico the points.
"Defeat is part of the game. In football, you can't always win. There will be some results that go against you. But we will work, we will try to win every game and approach every game positively with a fighting spirit," Molina said, shrugging off any notion that the Kolkata club was under pressure, when it came to their chances of qualification.
While some might argue that the Atletico manager does not want his players to deal with unnecessary stress, this kind of casual attitude could set a dangerous precedent in a tight race, for only a couple of results could completely change the look of the standings.