FC Pune City leaped into fourth place after a stunning 2-0 win over table-toppers FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL). By dishing out another impressive counter-attacking performance, they snapped the home side's streak of three consecutive wins.
It looked like both teams would cancel each other out until the 72nd minute when Marcelinho threaded a pass forward for Emiliano Alfaro, who clinically buried it past Laxmikant Kattimani. Alfaro had a chance to double the lead two minutes later but his shot didn't have enough pace and was cleared away.
However, Pune finally had their second goal in the 84th minute when Jonatan Lucca gleefully converted after Mandar Rao Dessais clearance deflected into his path.
Despite having the better first half, Pune had to work hard and dig deep at times with Goa coming at them in full force in the second period. This was exemplified with Vishal Kaith's triple save in the 70th minute, when he saved shots from Ferran Corominas, Brandon Fernandes and Manuel Arana as chaos ensued in the Pune box.
Apart from setting up the first goal, Marcelinho was heavily involved in the game, his swept effort and a ballooned shot coming seconds apart from each other in the 50th minute. But he was also in the middle of a penalty shout which the referee waved away.
But while they have the attacking verve, Pune won this game on the merit of sitting deep and defending smartly.
They had to soak in a lot of pressure in the first 10 minutes of the match after Mandar and Brandon both got into dangerous areas only to see their shots blocked. It was interesting for Goa to try the long-ball tactic early on, but Pune's defenders held tight and defended with ease.
But after that cagey start, the game suddenly opened up when Corominas dinked the ball over goalkeeper Kaith, but his attempt clipped the woodwork as the first notable warning shot was fired by the home side. Pune had a glorious chance themselves.
Marcelinho was the architect with some incredibly individual ability, setting up Alfaro to tap in, which the striker somehow missed in front of an open net. With frustration setting in for Alfaro, he struck from distance, but his blistering shot was palmed away by Laxmikant Kattimani.
Diego Carlos and Manuel Lanzarote then carved out two half chances, but both went begging as some good goalkeeping and profligacy in front of the net meant the score stayed 0-0 at the break.
The game had to come to life at some point, and when it did, Goa looked out of ideas going forward, allowing Pune to hit them on the break and take a valuable three away points.
Ranko Popovic's methods are finally working, and Pune will host NorthEast United with a lot of confidence in their next match, which is on December 30.
(With PTI Inputs)