Bengaluru FC won three games in a row for the first time this season after a convincing 2-0 win over defending champions ATK at the Salt Lake Stadium, in Kolkata, on Saturday. Despite being reduced to ten-men after Rahul Bheke’s sending off in the second half, a first half own goal from Jordi Figueras (3’) and Miku’s late winner (83’) handed the Blues all three points in the City of Joy.
While the game saw some intelligent attacking play by the Blues, birthday-boy and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who returned to Kolkata for the first time since 2014, stole the show with some absolutely brilliant saves time and again throughout both halves to keep his third clean sheet of the season. The win also sent Bengaluru (27 pts) four points clear at the top of the standings.
The Salt Lake was yet to settle down when Bengaluru celebrations echoed through the Stadium in what was just the 3rd minute of play. Edu Garcia picked out Udanta Singh with a delightful pass and looking to clear the winger’s cross, ATK defender Jordi miscued the ball into the back of his own net.
Armed with an early goal, Bengaluru began dictating play and Udanta in particular, was giving the ATK defence a hard time down the right. In what were three hectic minutes, Udanta’s crosses found Bheke and Miku, both of who couldn’t manage to connect.
But Bheke managed to get a boot to the ball when it mattered the most to thwart what was ATK’s best chance at an equaliser in the 32nd minute. Jayesh Rane’s header from a cross came off the Bengaluru post and just when the rebound looked like falling kindly for the ATK player who would have to simply stab home from close, Bheke made the vital tackle and put the ball out of play.
Earlier, with Dimas Delgado named on the bench and Harmanjot Khabra suspended, Albert Roca started with a midfield that had Lenny Rodrigues alongside Erik Paartalu and Edu Garcia. Bheke, meanwhile, slotted at the right-back position.
Down a goal, Ashley Westwood’s second half introduction of striker Robbie Keane gave ATK the impetus they needed as Bengaluru had to defend in numbers. It took some vital interceptions from Bheke and assured goalkeeping from Gurpreet Singh.
While the game had slowed down around the hour mark, the tempo changed suddenly after the Blues were dealt a blow when Bheke was sent off for a second bookable offense. The defender who was earlier booked for a foul on Martin Paterson in the 63rd minute, was called up again in the 69th minute when he successfully tackled Rane and won the ball.
ATK sensed the opportunity and immediately created a chance at the Bengaluru goal through Rane only to be denied by Gurpreet. Miku, meanwhile, was denied at the other end almost immediately, when his shot was cleared off the goal line by Ashutosh Mehta after an advanced Debjit Majumder was well-beaten.
With the hosts throwing in more attackers to make their one man advantage count and get an equaliser, Roca too brought in Nishu Kumar and Delgado to replace Sunil Chhetri and Garcia as he opted to hold on to the narrow lead.
Despite ATK’s relentless attacking in the final twenty minutes, it was the Blues who doubled their advantage in the 83rd minute. A quick through ball from Paartalu released Miku clear into the rival half, and the Venezuelan outpaced Jordi to score his tenth goal of the season past a helpless Debjit in the rival goal and seal Bengaluru’s ninth win of the campaign.
The Blues are back in action on Tuesday, when they travel south to face neighbours Chennaiyin FC.