“It’s the most important game of my life.”
Mumbai City FC coach Jorge Costa put a heavy price on his team’s clash with Jamshedpur FC as both teams continued their fight for playoffs. You would think, the man who has won multiple league titles in Portugal and the Champions League as a player, is probably exaggerating the significance of the match for him, just a bit. But it’s different when you are the coach. The buck stops at you.
The Islanders were at the fourth spot before the match but with Chennaiyin FC close on their heels and with a game in hand, Costa knew even a draw would taste like defeat. Goa have already qualified and ATK, Bengaluru are the favourites to take up the second and third spots.
With survival at stake, Mumbai, playing at home, pressed the pedal at the start. A corner was forced in the fourth minute that led to a goal for Armine Chermiti but he was ruled off-side and so the pendulum swung.
The Red Miners stitched a move immediately with Ankit Jadhav finding Farukh Chaudhary in the box. A clumsy tackle on the striker from behind from Sourav Das gifted Jamshedpur a penalty which Noe Acosta converted to put the visitors in front. A defeat meant elimination for Jamshedpur, so a club known for their likeness for ball possession was ready to be more direct and attacking. Coach Antonio Iriondo fielded four strikers — Chaudhary, Jadhav, Sergio Castel and David Grande.
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“We were not expecting an attacking Jamshedpur side. They changed their system. They had a lot of offensive players,” Costa said after the match.
The first half saw no more goals but there was no dearth of action. While Mumbai dominated the proceedings, Jamshedpur attacked on counters. Mumbai managed a 2-1 win in the previous encounter between these two sides, in a match where they only had 39 percent possession.
In the first half, Mumbai accounted for 60 percent of it. The final stat had 58 percent of ball possession in their favour. The strategy for Mumbai was clear in the first half and throughout the match. With young Sandip Mandi and Narender Gahlot playing as fullbacks, the home team continuously stretched the opposition's defence and took the game wide with winger Diego Carlos being the exploiter-in-chief. Yet, lack of support in the box for Chermiti meant little chance of conversion. Mumbai needed a change.
"The way that the game went in the first half, I thought I can make a difference with more quality to have more of the ball. We saw there is a gap between the Jamshedpur defensive line and midfield. I was not happy and I decided to (make the changes)," Costa revealed in the post-match press conference. And he did make the difference. Two inspired substitutes came on at the start of the second half. Bidyananda Singh and Serge Kevyn replaced Sourav Das and Raynier Fernandes.
Mumbai’s grip on the game tightened and the comeback was scripted. The first goal for the corner-loving Islanders came from a set-piece as Chermiti headed Carlos’ corner into the box at the hour mark. The pressure only multiplied from here on as the home team came close to scoring on multiple occasions but Jamshedpur had their share of chances. Castel wasted a tap-in opportunity and his header was saved excellently by Amrinder Singh.
The drama, however, was saved for the end. With four minutes added time running down on the clock, Mumbai looked destined for a draw. But the hosts were eventually awarded for their positive intent and hard work. In the 92nd minute, Bidyananda slotted home the winning goal from the edge of the box. Costa on the touchline erupted. In the city of Bollywood, it was a better script than what most movies have to offer.
The sight of the match was an exhausted Bidyananda, even though he only played for 45 mintues, dropping to the ground, overwhelmed with his teammates congratulating him as Costa fist pumped with all his might. Their campaign is still alive.
For Jamshedpur, it’s over. A season that began with goals and victories ended on a sombre note. The story could have been different if not for injuries to their talismanic striker Castel and playmaker Piti.
“After all the situations that we had with injuries to Piti, Sergio Castel and Tiri, we had to put young players in the field, and they had a lot of minutes to play. It is something that is important for the future. The positive part of these injuries is that we are trying to give confidence to these players, who will be part of the squad next season. It’s very important for the club that these players are getting minutes, because it is the best way to improve,” experienced Iriondo said after the match.
Mumbai, meanwhile, live to fight another day. They know Chennaiyin are the favourites for that fourth spot with two games in hand and only five points difference but as Costa said, Mumbai showed they have belief, determination and “will fight till the end”.
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2020 15:20:02 IST