Erik Paartalu’s first-half winner ensured Bengaluru FC finish the calendar year unbeaten and on top of the table as Carles Cuadrat’s men beat ATK 1-0 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Thursday. The win took the Blues to 27 points after 11 games as the Indian Super League breaks for a little more than a month.
Kean Lewis, handed his first start in a BFC shirt, showed the kind of trouble he could cause on the wings when he sent Ankit Mukherjee the wrong way twice before cutting back to Sunil Chhetri in the box, early in the game. He then swung in a cross for Udanta Singh a little later, one the winger couldn’t get too much of a head on to.
Bengaluru thought they had won a penalty in the 15th minute when a Chhetri free kick crashed into Andre Bikey’s hand. The blue shirts on the pitch all turned to referee Tejas Nagvenkar who wasn’t the least bit convinced.
Bengaluru did get the lead in the 37th minute and it was Lewis who played provider. In a move where the Blues switched the ball from right to left, Lewis’ floated cross was perfect for Paartalu to send in a glancing header beyond Arindam Bhattacharya to make it 1-0.
ATK’s first chance to go level came in the in 56th minute when Balwant Singh peeled away from the wall to meet Manuel Lanzarote’s chip from a free kick. But with only Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to beat, Balwant skied his effort as Steve Coppell raised his hands in disbelief. Balwant would be reason for more frustration for ATK minutes later when he fired wide after getting to an accurate long ball from John Johnson that curled perfectly over the Bengaluru defence.
At the other end, Udanta had an equally big miss in the 73rd minute after being put through by Dimas Delgado. Shrugging off the challenge of his marker, the Bengaluru winger made it to the ATK box only to drag his shot wide at the far post.
Cuadrat’s first and second changes were both forced after Nishu Kumar (knee) had to come off in the 33rd minute and later his replacement in Rino Anto (thigh) limped off in the 76th minute. The injuries meant young Gursimrat Gill got a little more than 20 minutes playing at right-back.
Juanan Gonzalez was the Blues’ saviour on more than one occasion on the night, stopping Balwant from getting a shot away after Albert Serran’s miscued clearance in the first half before a second half recovery to stop Everton Santos from going through on goal. Winning every aerial duel, the Spaniard kept the ATK attack at bay while also contributing going forward with his long diagonals.
Coppell looked to his bench late in the second half, sending on Komal Thatal, Noussair El Maimouni and Eli Babalj in search for a leveller but the Blues’ defence stayed stubborn. Bengaluru’s best chance of the second period fell to Chhetri who, after playing a give and go with Dimas, pushed the ball past Arindam, but was unable to get his shot on target as it rolled inches ahead of the goal.
Bengaluru finish the calendar year with 27 points from 11 games, following eight wins and three draws in the first phase of the Indian Super League campaign.