ISL 2016: Atletico de Kolkata lost steam midway to draw against Chennaiyin FC
Atletico started the game with an intensity. But Sereno's hamstring injury early in the second half which turned the tide in Chennaiyin's favour.
A lack of precision in front of goal, conceding goals because of errors of judgment and a failure to put the game to bed when dominating possession - Atletico de Kolkata's matches have had a surprisingly similar theme this season.
In an Indian Super League (ISL) season in which home advantage has not been a factor in deciding the results of matches, Atletico were visiting the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium where Chennaiyin FC had accumulated over 60 percent of their points.
Iain Hume, carrying an injury from the previous match, was rested in favour of Juan Belencoso, as Javier Lara and Lalrindika Ralte slotted in on either side of Helder Postiga in the midfield. Also, Keegan Perreira was handed his first start of the season. Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi, often culpable of too much tinkering with his starting eleven, opted for an unchanged side from the win against FC Pune City on 15 November.
Atletico started the game with an intensity rarely seen from Jose Molina's men when the score is level. The visitors peppered the Chennaiyin defence with a string of well-directed crosses, but although Belencoso and Postiga got the better of Bernard Mendy and Eli Sabia in the air, they failed to hit the target. Atletico could have taken the lead as early as the third minute but with Karanjit Singh beaten, Postiga's header could only find the post.
Sameehg Doutie's absence compelled Molina to start with Lara on the right flank - the Spaniard being instrumental in creating all of Atletico's goalscoring chances. With the Chennaiyin backline dropping deep and Hans Mulder opting to push forward, Lara frequently found space in between the right and central channels. As Pritam Kotal overlapped on the right wing and Postiga joined Belencoso in the opposition box, Atletico outnumbered and stretched the Chennaiyin defence with absolute ease.
Atletico's goal in the 39th minute came through an exhibition of their direct approach - Lara passed the ball out wide to Kotal, who put in an excellent cross for Postiga to head it past a hapless Karanjit. The visitors' rearguard put in an equally disciplined performance in the first half, maintaining a compact shape and frustrating a Chennaiyin attack led by the wasteful Davide Succi.
It was Sereno's hamstring injury early in the second half which turned the tide in Chennaiyin's favour as Kinshuk Debnath replaced the Portuguese (who had been excellent in his reading of the game) to form Atletico's all-Indian back four for the first time this season. As the match progressed, Chennaiyin grew into the game - hogging possession and forcing Atletico back into their own half.
"I think we could have won today and we were absolutely the better team in the first half, and in the second half Chennaiyin kept possession and put us under pressure. We could not defend well," Molina summarised when asked about what went wrong for his side in the second half.
Atletico were increasingly failing to contend with the waves of attack the Mariners were inflicting on them. Daniel Lalhimpuia terrorised the Atletico backline with his clever movement and intricate passing. The young Indian forward, who came on for an injured Jeje in the first half, was one of Chennaiyin's most influential players in the second half alongside Raphael Augusto.
The Brazilian, true to his form and calibre, completed 79 passes and registered three shots on the night. He almost set up the equaliser with a through ball which sliced open the Atletico defence in the 71st minute but his Italian teammate could only hit the side netting. Succi eventually redeemed himself when he headed Sabia's cross in the back of the net after the Brazilian had robbed the ball off Stephen Pearson in a dangerous position.
"We wanted to win here and we put our full energy trying to win but it is okay. We have got one point and it is always good to add points. We have just got to continue to keep fighting and trying to win," Molina remained unfazed in spite of Atletico dropping points in yet another game.
Atletico have now failed to win four of their last six matches. With six draws (the most in the league), the Kolkata club now travel to Fatorda to face wooden spoon holders FC Goa, who have won only one match at the venue so far. Stuck in a mid-table conundrum with 15 points, Atletico desperately need a win against Zico's team to ensure breathing space when it comes to their chances of a semi-final berth.
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