Carles Cuadrat’s Bengaluru FC side showed just the kind of reaction that was asked of them, as a Sunil Chhetri brace gave them a 2-1 win at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Friday. The skipper’s goals (59’,84’) came on either side of a Hugo Boumous strike (61′), in a clash that was an entertainer from start to finish. The win also sent Bengaluru to second place in the table, albeit provisionally, with ATK holding a game in hand.
The Blues were dealt a set-back on the eve of the fixture when midfielder Raphael Augusto had to be withdrawn from Bengaluru’s plans with an injury. Cuadrat’s starting eleven had Harmanjot Khabra in midfield, while striker Manuel Onwu made the bench after missing seven games with an injured ankle.
Goa’s big miss was one on the touchline, with coach Sergio Lobera watching from the boxes after the Spaniard was sent off last week after the win over Chennaiyin FC.
The first big chance of the game came Bengaluru’s way in the 11th minute after Nishu Kumar picked Rahul Bheke with a pass across the pitch. Bheke dropped a shoulder on his man and fired with his left foot, only to see Mohammad Nawaz tip over the ball that had dipped considerably. It was then Nishu’s turn to have a shy at goal and he chose to do it with a rasping hit from thirty-five yards out. But Nawaz, yet again, managed to block the shot before Goa cleared their lines.
A half that saw the game flow at a quick pace, could have gone Goa’s way if it hadn’t been for a brave charge and clearance by Gurpreet to deny Lenny Rodrigues who only had the Bengaluru ’keeper to beat after being slipped through by Brandon Fernandes.
Cuadrat began the second half with a change, taking off an out-of-sorts Udanta Singh for Onwu. The switch saw Sunil Chhetri move the left while Ashique Kuruniyan made his way to the right on the wings.
With no success from open play, Bengaluru turned to the set-piece to break the deadlock. An unmarked Chhetri sneaked into the box to meet Dimas Delgado’s corner with a header that beat Nawaz to make it 1-0 to the Blues in the 59th. The hosts, however, couldn’t hold on to the advantage for long after Boumous calmly finished past Gurpreet to level things in the 61st minute.
With ample time left on the clock to chase the win, both teams went at each other all over again. Cuadrat made a double switch, bringing on Semboi Haokip and Suresh Wangjam for Onwu and Khabra. But it was the skipper who turned up with the answer yet again, with a composed finish of his own to make it 2-1 in the 84th minute.
Putting the brakes on a Goa attack, Delgado’s skill in midfield allowed the Spaniard to find Ashique in attack. The winger turned his marker and then rode a tackle before playing Chhetri through on goal. The skipper, who had Mourtada Fall breathing down his neck, made his foray into the box and finished past Nawaz’s right to reclaim the lead.
Goa had yet another chance to pull level, when substitute Edu Bedia took a swipe from distance. The Spaniard’s effort was tipped over by a stubborn Sandhu, as the Blues protected their advantage until the final whistle.
The Blues next face Jamshedpur FC at the Kanteerava Stadium on 9th January.