A ten-man Bengaluru FC showed why they call the Kanteerava the Fortress when they gave FC Goa a masterclass in attack and defence, blanking the visitors 3-0 to hand them their first defeat of 2019. The win sent Bengaluru to 34 points, a tally that can only be reached by Sergio Lobera’s men, against whom they hold a superior head-to-head tally, thereby securing a summit finish for a second season on the trot. Playing over sixty minutes with a man disadvantage, Bengaluru scored thrice in a 20-minute period of the second half, as goals from Juanan Gonzalez (50’), Udanta Singh (58’) and Miku (69’) secured three points.
Cuadrat’s refusal to risk key men in a bid to keep them fresh for the play-offs saw Sunil Chhetri left out of the squad. Albert Serran, serving a one-game suspension, joined the captain and Erik Paartalu in the player’s enclosure. Luisma Villa was handed a start on the left in attack, while Rino Anto – after missing out against Delhi Dynamos – found his place at right-back.
Goa had the first sniff at goal in the 4th minute when midfielder Ahmed Jahouh’s fierce hit from distance skimmed the turf and crashed into the post before being taken care of by Bengaluru.
The Blues brushed off the early scare and began pegging Goa back with some fluent football. Luisma lost Brandon Fernandes with a roulette and slipped Xisco Hernandez through, but the Spaniard shot straight at ’keeper Naveen Kumar. Minutes later, Bengaluru orchestrated what was the move of the half. Stealing the ball in the middle, Luisma found Miku who flicked a pass to Xisco with his heel and darted in the box to meet the chip from the Spaniard. But Miku couldn’t get the cleanest of connections on the ball and it was Goa’s turn to get away.
Having withstood the pressure from Bengaluru, Goa found their way back in the half, forcing the Blues to concede a flurry of corners and free kicks that Cuadrat’s men saw out without any panic. But just when the exchanges began getting interesting, referee Pranjal Banerjee turned the game on its head when he shockingly sent Nishu Kumar off in the 42nd minute even after he had won a header cleanly. Banerjee, who had rightly shown Nishu a yellow early in the game, strangely pulled out the same colour as the blue shirts on the pitch and Bengaluru bench watched in disbelief.
But instead of pulling Bengaluru down, the decision to reduce them to ten men seemed to fire Cuadrat’s men up, who came up with three stunning goals in the second half. It all started when Luisma whipped a free kick in the box, one that Miku deftly flicked to find Juanan. The defender brought the ball under control with one touch and then used a second to smash the ball home from close to make it 1-0.
Buoyed by the lead in tough circumstances, Bengaluru weren’t willing to sit back and protect it. Beginning a move on the counter, Miku was once again involved, flicking on Dimas Delgado. The Spanish midfielder then picked Udanta’s run with a perfectly weighted pass that the winger hammered home despite being chased down by orange shirts.
After having a hand in both goals, Miku decided it was time for him to get one of his own and he chose what was probably the best from the lot to make it 3-0 in the 69th minute. Turning his marker and 30 yards out, the Venezuelan unleashed a thunderous strike that zipped past Kumar and into the back of the net, as the Fortress erupted.
Bengaluru chose to keep possession and attack on the counter, with the disadvantage of personnel in mind and looking to keep their first clean sheet of 2019, and did just that as a makeshift backline of Juanan, Bheke, Rino and Khabra thwarted all attacks from Corominas and Brandon, to end the tie and secure top spot.
The Blues next fly to Jamshedpur, where the final clash of the League stages awaits them against Cesar Ferrando’s Jamshedpur FC.