All it takes is an opportunity, an ending. Antonio Habas knows it. Roy Krishna knows it. ATK Mohun Bagan played the way ATK has always played under Habas, sit back, absorb the pressure and attack any mistake. And the Kerala Blasters defense gave them just that, a mistake so careless it was a clown, Sergio Cidoncha crashing into teammate Vicente Gómez and heading the ball directly into Roy Krishna’s path. Krishna’s shot was brilliant – on the run, hard and low to the keeper’s right with his weak foot, striking the corner – the fully validated Habas model of efficiency over extravagance. ATK Mohun Bagan 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters. Score a goal, close the door, go home with all three points. As you were.
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Before the game, Habas had warned Vicuña that the ISL was a different competition, and although the Blasters saw more of the ball, played the passes more fluently, the scoreboard finally reflected Habas’s words. It’s a different competition and Roy Krishna is a different sauce.
It was a sloppy game, even sloppier than tournament starters tend to be, with a non-existent preseason and a great offseason that makes the ball look heavy as it sadly slides down the center of the field, players kicking still getting used to the act.
The Blasters started off well and were the best side for large pieces. They played from behind with religious consistency, Vicuña’s philosophy was imprinted on all of them. However, they were also terribly careless: some passes worked into the face of the goal, others did not clear the first opponent in front of them. But they stood their ground. Jessel Carneiro returned the ball from the midline instead of risking losing the ball he encapsulated what Vicuña had spent the last few weeks hammering at them. However, the fact that he was exhausted in a corner showed that Vicuña has a great job ahead of him if he wants to keep going.
They showed promise, glimpses of what they could become. Gary Hooper’s heist play was a special highlight, and they had two exceptional chances: young Ritwik Das missed the ball from about three yards, Sahal Abdul Samad cut an even better opportunity inside the six-yard box. But they failed to seize enough opportunities for Hooper, who did most of his work with his back to goal, and turning around will be an urgent priority for Vicuña.
The ATKMBs were pretty bland for most of the game. Edu Garcia started in place of David Williams, a laid-back playmaker rather than an action striker, and as a consequence, Krishna saw very little of the ball. That he still created three chances, that he still scored, was more a function of his relentless run and pure predatory instinct than any cohesive accumulation of those behind him.
Although offensively they weren’t interested, defensively they were solid. The game showed why Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan were such cunning signings for Habas. The former sat down and read the game with ease, the latter lunged and pushed the ball across the field each time he approached. If ever there was a role tailor-made for Jhingan, this was it.
However, the big concern for Habas will be Michael Soosairaj. The flying left wing was brought down on a stretcher after Kerala right-back Prasanth Karuthadathkuni kneed him in the, err … knee, and his replacement, Subashish Bose, was not so threatening in the future. Habas’ game plan relies on his wings providing consistent attacking width and he will hope Soosairaj’s injury is not serious or Bose improves his game.
For now, however, this will do. When things get sloppy, those who don’t take too many risks, those who don’t make too many mistakes have the best chance. And so it turned out.
After the game, Habas said: “I am very happy to win 1-0. After 8 months of rest and without preseason, the important thing was the result and not the score.” For Habas, the result has always been the only thing that mattered. It’s a brave new season, but it’s the same old Beans. And his team remains the embodiment of his thinking: pragmatic, efficient, absolutely solid. 1-0 to
ATK ATK Mohun Bagan. Get used to it.
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