Mumbai: Jorge Costa's approach to football has always exuded an air of cynical pragmatism, from his days as a player, where his no-nonsense attitude earned him endearing nicknames as Bicho (beast) and Tanque (tank), through to his managerial career, in which his teams have always employed a very direct style of play. Yet on an ill-tempered night at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday, it was Costa who fell victim to some pragmatic football, as ATK successfully 'parked the bus' in the second half to defend their two-goal lead and secure victory.
Costa made three changes to his starting XI ahead of the match, bringing in Amine Chermiti, Rowllin Borges and Sauvik Chakraborty for the unavailable trio of Sarthak Golui, Sourav Das and Serge Kevyn. His opposite number was also forced into making a change, with Victor Mongil making his debut in central defence, in place of the suspended Agus Iniguez.
Things began well enough for Mumbai. The first 20 minutes saw most of the early chances fall their way, as foreign imports Diego Carlos and Amine Chermiti worked their way into half-decent chances. However, the tide quickly turned in ATK's favour after Jayesh Rane put Roy Krishna through with a delightful pass, which the Fijian striker dragged just wide of the far post. That initial opportunity inspired a period of excellent football from ATK, in which wave upon wave of red and white attacks battered Mumbai City's wall of blue.
The breakthrough for ATK came in the 29th minute, when Australian David Williams received the ball on the left flank and took it into Mumbai's penalty area, turning sharply before squaring it to an onrushing Pranoy Halder, who completed the move with a simple tap-in. It was a goal rooted in simplicity – a quick, devastating counter-attack that tore apart Mumbai's defence with frightening ease. However, it came at a cost for Halder, who tweaked his hamstring while stretching for the ball. While he was being treated, the first fracas of the night erupted, as players from both sides squared off in the centre of the pitch. From that point on, the game was played on a knife-edge, with periodic confrontations cropping up every few minutes.
Halder was brought off shortly after his goal, and was replaced by Michael Soosairaj, a forced substitution that would eventually prove to be a blessing in disguise for ATK coach Antonio López Habas. Soosairaj's blistering pace had an immediate and telling impact on the game, as ATK continued to dominate. Their second, and final, goal of the night came in the 42nd minute, and it was Soosairaj who turned it in, latching on to a headed pass from Krishna to curl an excellent effort past the fingertips of an outstretched Amrinder Singh. While the first goal was all about rapid counterattack, the second was a moment of sheer individual brilliance. ATK headed into half-time with a two-goal advantage, looking like they would go on to score a few more in the second half.
It was a bit surprising then, when the teams returned to the field, to see the 4-3-1-2 that ATK began the match with converted to a more defensive 3-5-2, a formation that saw Soosairaj drop into the wing-back position. Along with the change in set-up, ATK transformed from free-flowing attack to dogged defence, choosing to spend the entire 45 minutes camped out in their own half. At the time, it seemed like a pessimistic move from Habas, considering how well they were playing, but it turned out to be a master-stroke, as Mumbai laboured to break down the watertight organisation of ATK's defence.
That's not to say that Mumbai didn't have their chances though. In-form striker-turned-winger Modou Sougou put the ball into the net on two separate occasions, with the first being rightfully called offside and the second being controversially denied for a foul on ATK goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya. ATK's Roy Krishna also came close to scoring, as a thunderous cross ricocheted off his knee and onto the upright, before going out of play, but other than that, there was not much of note in the second half when it came to football. Off the pitch though, there were a fair few incidents, most notable of which was a yellow card for Mumbai coach Costa, who was reprimanded for leaving his technical area to have a shouting contest with the touchline referee.
In his post-match press conference, Costa alleged that he was merely trying to help the referee, saying, "In a difficult situation, I was trying to help the referee. And I am the kind of person who wants to help whenever someone wants my help. But, I can’t help if people don’t want it. That’s all I can say about this. I tried to be helpful to the referee there but all he did was give me a yellow card."
Ultimately, however, it was a comfortable victory for ATK, who saw out the clock to claim all three points and leapfrog FC Goa to go top of the Indian Super League table, thanks to their superior goal difference. While it has given ATK fans and players a sense of security in their team, it has raised a lot of questions for Mumbai City FC, who now find themselves just three points ahead of fifth-placed Jamshedpur FC, who still have a game in hand.
In spite of their lacklustre performances, Costa concluded his press conference by reiterating his belief in his players, saying, "I am very proud of the boys and the way that we played football in the second half. That wasn't a fair result because we made so many chances and we had could have created a different result. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t do it." While it's true that they could have been more fortunate, it's also true that you make your own luck in football, and Mumbai City could really do with some of that right about now.
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Updated Date: Jan 05, 2020 14:07:18 IST