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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

ISL: Plenty of goals, and ‘big’ matches that ended with one-sided scorelines

It’s still early days in this ISL season, but Mumbai City has reached where they had left off last year – at the top of the table.

Goa: This was the clash between the two teams that finished atop the group stages last year, and then even contested the final – the Mumbai side winning both. (Source: PTI)

In his pre-match build-up, veteran commentator John Helm described how the last time East Bengal played Odisha FC, the Kolkata team scored five goals and still lost the match. By all means, this factoid was meant to be just that, a reminder from the statistics book. Ninety minutes of football later, East Bengal scored four goals, but conceded six in a nervy 10-goal thriller.

But this third week of the Indian Super League (ISL) season was meant to be about the other club from Kolkata. And the storylines were vast before kick-off ahead of ATK Mohun Bagan’s duel against Mumbai City FC at the Fatorda Stadium. After all, this was the clash between the two teams that finished atop the group stages last year, and then even contested the final – the Mumbai side winning both.

This was a clash between a team that has the backing and riches of the City Football Group, and a legacy club that was founded in 1889. It was a clash between the Islanders who held onto two of the ISL’s most proficient foreign players in Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall, and the Mariners who swooned in during the transfer window to lure Mumbai City’s long-time goalkeeper Amrinder Singh along with their talismanic playmaker Hugo Boumous – the latter for an ISL record transfer reportedly around $280,000 for five years.

And then there were the two managers – the young Des Buckingham, a 36-year-old from Oxford, fresh off the boat from winning the A-League title with Melbourne City, and the veteran Antonio Habas who has managed two ISL-winning teams.

There was no mistaking the crescendo in the build-up to the first ‘big’ game of the season. There was a lot expected, but the promise was broken after just four minutes. And through the unlikeliest of sources.

First start, first two goals

Vikram Pratap Singh, a 19-year-old from Chandigarh, had played just 98 minutes last season spread over 11 substitute appearances. On Wednesday, he’d get his first start and he’d promptly side-foot a close range shot through Amrinder’s legs to open the scoring. Another 20 minutes later, albeit through a trailing arm in a follow-through – the entire play was so quick that it could arguably have only been spotted by VAR – he doubled the lead.

Habas, a master tactician often criticised for shutting up shop too early, could do nothing to reorganise his team to stop the Mumbai onslaught. A third goal came through Igor Angulo in the 38th minute before the referee mercifully ended the half. But the second didn’t get off to a bright start either.

Within 20 seconds, ATK defender Deepak Tangiri was shown the red card for taking a swipe at Vikram. The resulting freekick saw Jahouh perfectly deliver the ball for Fall – who was offside – to head home the fourth. Bipin Singh, a star from last season and creator of the first two goals added a fifth before David Williams – who replaced Boumous at half-time – gave ATK a consolation goal through a delightful strike from distance.

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This first big match of the season turned out to be anything but that. It brought ATK crashing down after a mesmerising start to the campaign, and put the Mumbai team back on track after an upset loss to Hyderabad FC.

And it possibly gave them a boost before the second big clash of the season.

Pipping Bengaluru FC

Late on Saturday night, Mumbai City was to face a Bengaluru FC team that has not had the best start to the season, but is more than capable of pulling things together when it mattered most. The Blues from Bangalore are former champions boasting the most recognisable Indian players. But it didn’t help their case when the most potent goalscorer from the country Sunil Chhetri missed a penalty just before halftime.

Rather, it was Mumbai’s 21-year-old goalkeeper Mohammad Nawaz who dove the right way and got a good strong wrist to Chhetri’s goal-bound spot kick. A goal here would have put the Bangalore team at a 2-1 advantage after Cleiton Silva’s perfect freekick levelled proceedings 11 minutes after Angulo’s ninth-minute penalty gave Mumbai the lead against the run of play.

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For all of Bengaluru FC’s grit – they started the match with a shot from distance rattling the crossbar in the second minute – the Islanders would not budge. They’d eventually take home three points with a 3-1 win to go to the top of the league table for the first time this season.

The Sergio Lobera era at Mumbai City ended on a successful note, but unexpectedly. It cast doubts over how well the team would perform under a new manager, who at 36 is a year younger than Angulo, the top scorer so far this season.

But Buckingham has so far managed to steady the ship after four games, despite the loss in the second match. He’s continued to bring out impressive performances from Bipin on the left flank, and has allowed Vikram free reign on the right.

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It’s still early days in this ISL season, but Mumbai City has reached where they had left off last year – at the top of the table.

First published on: 06-12-2021 at 01:14:57 pm
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