Bengaluru FC’s little genius turned up with a big goal as the Blues beat ATK 1-0 to go top of the table at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday. Sunil Chhetri’s twenty-five yard piledriver in the 40th minute got Albert Roca’s side back to winning ways at home in what was a commanding show throughout the game.
While the Blues kept control of the game throughout the 90 minutes, a moment of brilliance from a man who has always delivered on big occasions, helped Bengaluru FC leapfrog Chennaiyin FC (17 pts) into the top spot. The southern neighbours, had earlier slipped conceding a 90th minute equalizer to Delhi Dynamos, allowing the Blues (18 points) to move to the summit.
The Blues wasted little time in letting ATK know that they were going to dictate play from the get-go and a flurry of corners in the first ten minutes put Teddy Sheringham’s side under pressure. Juan Gonzalez came close on a couple of occasions but fired wide.
Bengaluru FC’s best chance came in the 32nd minute and it was the big Spaniard again who was in the thick of things. A free kick routine saw Dimas Delgado pick out Gonzalez whose looping header beat Debjit Majumder only to bounce of the post and back into play. Rahul Bheke had a stab from close but his shot was cleared off the line as ATK kept treading on thin ice.
But for all the intricate passing, it was a moment of genius from distance that put the Blues ahead. ATK midfielder Conor Thomas made a hash of a pass and ended up picking out Chhetri who needed one look at goal before hitting home a rasping strike from 25-yards out to send the Fortress into a tizzy.
Earlier, Roca named an unchanged XI from the side that beat Kerala Blasters in Kochi. ATK, meanwhile, had three former Bengaluru FC players on the pitch in Robin Singh, Shankar Sampingiraj and Keegan Pereira.
ATK rang in two changes to start the second half with, bringing in young Bipin Singh and Ryan Taylor for Zequinha and Sampingiraj. Keane led the hunt for the equaliser with a shot from outside the box, but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu dived on his right to keep out.
Bengaluru FC’s midfield trio of Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado and Edu Garcia were fantastic on the night, linking defence and attack with seamless ease. Roca’s back four too were tight with Subhasish Bose and Harmanjot Khabra pegging back the ATK defence with frequent overlapping runs as Gonzalez and Bheke were solid as ever.
The Blues could have killed the tie off in the 79th minute when substitute Braulio Nobrega, on for Miku, made a good run to get past Tom Thorpe. His attempt from inside the box though went just wide. Moments later, Paartalu picked out Edu Garcia at the far post on the left, who squared the ball across the goalmouth. Braulio, once again timed his run well, but was beaten to the ball by Jordi Montel who managed to clear for a corner.
The Blues managed to see out the game in the final moments to record their sixth win of the season ahead of their back-to-back away games against Delhi Dynamos (January 14) and Mumbai City FC (January 18).