ISL 2019-20: Relentless ATK run through debutantes Hyderabad FC en route resounding win

ATK had suffered a close defeat in their opening fixture to Kerala Blasters FC, owing to a few officiating errors and defensive lapses, but the signs were promising. Against Hyderabad, they delivered.

Sreya Mazumder October 26, 2019 11:22:07 IST
ISL 2019-20: Relentless ATK run through debutantes Hyderabad FC en route resounding win
  • Habas set up his team with three at the back as Anas Edathodika returned from injury to partner Augustin Iniguez and Pritam Kotal.

  • Not only did Brown get out-manoeuvred on the tactical aspect, his players looked completely out of depth in all departments.

  • While ATK fans were on cloud nine, it was as miserable a start as it could get for the new entrants.

“Football is like this. One day you lose, the other day you win,” Antonio Habas’ words could have been mistaken for small talk in a different setting, but the Spaniard’s side had just produced one of the finest displays ever by any Indian Super League (ISL) team, yet he refused to get carried away so early into the season. While it rained cats and dogs in Kolkata, enveloping the city with a literally chilling atmosphere, Habas exuded an equally cool and nonchalant attitude about his team’s superlative performance.

ISL 201920 Relentless ATK run through debutantes Hyderabad FC en route resounding win

File image of David Williams. Image Courtesy: ISL

ATK had suffered a close defeat in their opening fixture to Kerala Blasters FC, owing to a few officiating errors and defensive lapses, but the signs were promising. And they certainly delivered on the promise on Friday evening.

Habas set up his team with three at the back as Anas Edathodika returned from injury to partner Augustin Iniguez and Pritam Kotal. Prabir Das and Michael Soosairaj took up the wingback positions on either flank, the latter afforded a more ‘free’ role than he had in the last game when he consistently had to track back. Williams and Krishna partnered upfront with Jayesh Rane slotting in on the left.

"I think it’s a rarity that a coach can sit here before the first game and be able to talk about the opposition. That was the advantage afforded to us,” Phil Brown had commented before the game and Hyderabad FC turned up in a similar formation to that of ATK, mostly to counter the Kolkata-side from attacking through the wings.

Gurtej Singh, Matthew Kilgallon, and Rafael Lapa Gomez slotted in the central defence while the Indian U-20 international Ashish Rai, whom Brown had snapped up from Indian Arrows, started on the left. Young Sahil Panwar resumed his last season’s duties on the right. Adil Khan and Nikhil Poojary assumed midfield roles while Brown threw down the gauntlet by starting all three of his forwards in Marcelinho, Giles Barnes and Robin Singh.

On paper, it might have been an evenly matched contest, but ATK ran rampant right from the onset. They pressed high up the field on every occasion a Hyderabad FC player had the ball, forcing a string of turnovers in dangerous areas. There was never any doubt about the offensive mettle which Roy Krishna and David Williams would bring to the Kolkata franchise, but what many did not expect was the exceptional work-rate showcased by the two A-League veterans.

In tandem with Jayesh Rane who looked menacing on the left flank every time he got the ball and drove towards the Hyderabadi defence, the midfield of Javier Hernandez and Carl McHugh forced Brown’s players into errors. Cracks were visible in Hyderabad’s backline and the skipper Kamaljit Singh was almost caught out as early as the ninth minute. David Williams had chased down a back-pass with meticulous efficiency and the custodian’s first touch let him down. His clearance hit Williams but fortunately for the visitors, the deflection was wide off the net.

Minutes later, Williams was afforded space just outside Hyderabad’s penalty area and the Aussie’s shot was barely punched away by Kamaljit, who had misread the flight of the ball, the wet conditions further contributing to his nervous start to the game.

Not only were ATK playing with the kind of pace and precision rarely associated with the Indian clubs, they were making it look effortless. They attacked the ball with an intensity that the visitors simply could not match up to, Hyderabad FC’s midfield being completely overrun in the first half. And when Michael Soosairaj’s long-range effort hit the outside of the post, it was evident that the visitors were barely holding to their clean sheet by a thread.

Minutes later, Javier Hernandez carved open the Hyderabad backline with a through-ball to Williams who timed his run to perfection to beat the offside trap. Then, the Aussie ended the move with a composed finish, shooting through Kamaljit’s legs as the custodian came off his line and opened his tally for the league. The former Wellington Phoenix striker had looked lively since ATK’s first game in Kochi and it was a deserving goal for both the player and his club.

Before Brown could contemplate and instruct his team to shore up the defensive lines, ATK doubled their lead. Williams set up the second for his fellow arrival from the A-League Roy Krishna who was again allowed to shoot unchallenged from outside Hyderabad’s penalty area. The visiting skipper did not cover himself in glory as the ball wriggled past his fingertips to hit the inside of the post and slot itself at the back of the net. Two goals in ninety seconds and Hyderabad FC were all but knocked out of the contest.

ATK, however, were not done piling up their misery. Another defence-splitting pass, this time from Rane, found Williams who made no mistake in a one-on-one situation and completed his brace just before the half-time. The visitors looked a bit more settled following the restart, but they were not out of the woods by any means.

ATK kept pushing and probing while injuries to Poojary and Barnes further took the wind out of Hyderabad’s sails, both players forced to continue due to lack of available substitutions. As rain poured down consistently, not affecting the enthusiasm of the 26,000-strong crowd at Yuva Bharati Krirangan, ATK kept producing more fireworks for the fans who had braved the extreme weather to support their team.

Prabir Das had been a livewire all throughout the game, repaying the faith the ATK management entrusted upon him while helping him through an injury-laden period and his driving run into the Hyderabad FC box created ATK’s fourth of the night as the 25-year-old set up substitute Edu Garcia for a simple tap-in. Two minutes later, the duo combined again – Prabir with an excellent cross this time for Garcia to head past a hapless Kamaljit stranded in no man’s land.

While ATK fans were on cloud nine, it was as miserable a start as it could get for the new entrants.

“Everything went wrong,” admitted Brown after the game. “Our preparation for pre-season has been very good. The fitness levels in games in pre-season have been superb. And the results as well. But nothing prepares you for the first game like the first game. And ATK came up trumps.”

Not only did Brown get out-manoeuvred on the tactical aspect, his players looked completely out of depth in all departments.

“It was a poor performance today. We got to get back on the training ground tomorrow and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” concluded Brown on how they would get back to the drawing board before their match against Jamshedpur FC.

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