It took an unlikely source but Nishu Kumar’s injury-time winner (90+1’) was worth its weight in gold as Bengaluru FC beat Maldivian side New Radiant SC 1-0 to surge on top of the AFC Cup Group E table as sole leaders, at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Tuesday.
Bengaluru had a big chance in the 15th minute when ’keeper Mohamed Imran charged outside the New Radiant box in a bid to clear an attack, but was left stranded after Thongkhosiem Haokip stole possession. The striker instinctively went for goal only to see his shot headed out by defender Haroon Amiri off the line.
Haokip then had a relatively tougher chance to put away in the 32nd minute when Khabra, picked out by a ball from the middle, sent in a cross into the box. Haokip met the ball on the volley but was awkwardly positioned to make the most of it.
Roca started the second half with one change, bringing in Subhasish Bose for Zohmingliana Ralte, looking to add more pace in attack down the wings. With both defences at their stubborn best, chances weren’t easy to come by. Daniel Segovia, who scored in the win over Aizawl last week, could have broken the deadlock in the 65th minute when a cross in defence deflected and fell to him. The Spaniard was left with a tinge of regret for not shooting sooner as a swarm of New Radiant shirts succeeded in taking the ball off him after some effort.
The Blues’ Spanish manager then rang in two changes that indicated a late charge, within minutes of each other. Skipper Sunil Chhetri who hasn’t had too much of a part to play in the club’s AFC Cup campaign so far, came on for Haokip. Victor Perez for Alwyn George was the final change of the night.
Chhetri, operating on the right in attack, was sent through on goal in the 84th minute but a nudge from defender Angel Paz was enough to break the skipper’s momentum who had shouts for a penalty swiftly turned down. Bengaluru were then a man down in the dugout when, referee Hanna Yatab gave Blues’ boss Roca his marching orders for a round of protests.
With three minutes of additional time to claim the points, the skipper was sent through on goal by an exquisite pass from Boithang Haokip. With New Radiant custodian Mohamed Imran coming off his line in anticipation of the shot, Chhetri rolled it across for an incoming Nishu, who tapped home to hand Bengaluru the lead and with it, the three points.
The Blues are off to Bhubaneshwar next, where they take on I-League side Neroca FC in the quarterfinal of the Super Cup, on Friday.