ATK Mohun Bagan’s Indian Super League debut went exactly the way the I-League champions wanted as the Mariners won 1-0 against Kerala Blasters FC in tournament opener in Goa on Friday.
The team, playing with a set core from last year champions ATK under coach Antonio Habas, played the disciplined football they are known for, absorbing attacks of possession-loving KBFC to hit back at counter. ATKMB evidently had more attacks than Kibu Vicuna’s side and their defend-and-attack-on-the-counter approach finally paid off in the 68th minute with Krishna’s left-footed cracker.
The goal came against the run of play when Roy Krishna latched on to a loose ball inside the box, after a poor clearance by KBFC mdfielder Cidoncha off a substitute Manvir Singh’s cross from the right, and shot it past Albino Gomes to the bottom corner.
In the first half, both the sides seemed cagey and were cautious to draw first blood in their attempt to avoid the counter punch.
Expectedly, former Bagan coach Vicuna and side enjoyed most of the possession with the midfielders involved in the build up. However, playing with a new squad, it was clear that Kerala Blasters were yet to find their winning combination. Centre attacking midfielder Sahal Samad and right wing Ritwick Das showed flashes of brilliance but were not productive as KB managed just one shot inside the box.
ATKMB, on the other hand, played to their strength by maintaining a tight midfield and defensive line in a diamond formation with three centre backs.
The team enjoyed five clear cut chances on the counter with high pressing but Roy Krisha and attackers couldn’t make them count.
ATKMB were also handed an early blow as Michael Soosairaj, who looked threatening on the counter in the early stages, hopped off the field with an injury.
Subhasish Bose did came in for Soosairaj but he couldn’t make the same impact attacking wise and that reflected in Bagan’s attack with no threat coming from the left wing.
Post break, KB came out as a much-improved side as their attacks moved closer to the box unlike first half. Gary Hooper’s involvement too got better with the whim in attack but the sharp moves were still missing.
In the 50th minute, KB had a clear opening with Nongdamba Naorem split opening EB defense from left wing. His cross landed in front of Samad, who couldn’t control the ball properly to unleash a shot despite being alone on the far post.