A top show from Prabir Das, Arindam Bhattacharya and David Williams helped ATK complete the comeback against Bengaluru FC …
A 1-0 deficit from the first leg and a goal down in the opening five minutes against statistically the best defence in the league – ATK found themselves at the foot of a mountain to climb at the Salt lake Stadium in the second leg of their Indian Super League (ISL) play-off clash against Bengaluru FC.
But a sensational performance from Prabir and clinical finishing from Roy Krishna and David Williams got them over the line. On the other hand, Bengaluru FC paid the price for a passive approach and woeful finishing in front of goal.
The defending champions started the game on the front foot, with Ashique Kuruniyan getting an early goal. They then went on to dominate the next 20 minutes or so, with the Indian international running into spaces and wreaking havoc on the right flank.
Despite conceding on the counter and allowing Ashique to break several times in the first quarter of the game, ATK stuck to maintaining a high line and attacking in numbers. This decision would have been looked back at as a rash one, had the Blues converted in the final third. But the lack of prolificacy from the visitors provided the hosts the confidence to surge forward.
As expected, Bengaluru lined up with a compact back-line to ensure Edu Garcia and Javi Hernandez were unable to find gaps to put the ball behind the back-line for the strikers to chase. ATK hence had to shift their focus to creating chances from the wide areas.
Suresh Wangjam did a great job at keeping Michael Soosairaj quiet, like he did in the first leg. The onus to direct deliveries at Williams and Roy hence, fell on Prabir on the right flank. The 26-year-old bounced back from a poor show in the first leg to deliver a performance for the ages.
He was a constant menace on the right wing, tormenting Nili Perdomo, Bengaluru’s make-shift left-back on the night. It took an inch-perfect delivery from Prabir and a smart run-in from Roy for ATK to pull level in the first half.
However, the comeback bells were not ringing loud at half-time, with both teams competing evenly in the first 45 minutes. The teams’ appraoch to the next 45 minutes changed the game.
Bengaluru’s biggest flaw was their laid-back attitude and passive approach of defending the aggregate lead over adding another and sealing the tie. They were happy to let ATK have the ball as long as they were not driving it vertically from the middle of the pitch. Even on the counter, Bengaluru lacked the conviction to make it count and were throwing away chances rather cheaply.
Right after the hour mark, Williams made clever use of a rookie mistake from Suresh inside the box to win his side a penalty and bury it to take them a goal closer to the comeback. Cuadrat responded to this by taking off Ashique – who was playing one of his best games of the season – for Udanta Singh, who was enduring a dry spell.
Prabir returned to haunt the Bengaluru back-line, this time with a cross for Williams to head home and complete the comeback.
But the job was far from over. ATK’s third goal was bound to change the dynamics of the game, with Bengaluru now pushing for the crucial goal. This time, the hosts turned to the man between the sticks to see them through.
Arindam Bhattacharya redeemed himself in the second half after a poor showing during the first 45 minutes. He produced some top saves, including a one-on-one against Kervaughn Frater, a header from Erik Paartalu and a deflected header from John Johnson, which could have handed his former team the tie.
But the custodian’s biggest save of the night arrived in the 88th minute when he pulled off a blinder to deny John Johnson from scoring an own goal off a Dimas Delgado delivery. Arindam turned up when needed to claim a deserved chunk of credit as ATK completed the phenomenal comeback.
At the end of the night, the team that believed in overturning the result made it happen through perseverance, patience and trusting the process. The team that believed they could protect a one-goal advantage paid the price for the passive approach.