ISL:Williams conquers Bengaluru FC with brace; ATK enter final

March 9, 2020

FootballIndian Super League


That is what ATK coach Antionio Lopez told his team to have at half-time. ATK and Bengaluru FC were then locked 1-1 with the tie aggregate 2-1 in favour of the visitors. Belief is what ATK showed to turn the game and the night around with two goals from David Williams, his first since scoring against Bengaluru FC on Christmas Day here. 3-2 is how the two legged semi-final ended and from the worst possible start, ATK had disentangled themselves to make their first Indian Super League (ISL) final after 2016.

They will play Chennaiyin FC in Goa on Saturday — two teams who have never met in the title-round but won four of the six editions. Williams made it 2-1 on the night with a penalty in the 63rd minute and followed it with a header from nearly 14 yards so powerful that it gave Gurpreet Singh Sandhu — all of six foot five inches — no chance. The third goal came off Prabir Das’s assist; the wingback being bullet train all night. Soon after, Das tracked back to clear his lines.

From being injured and treated by ATK all of last season, Das returned the faith the team showed on him by turning on the after-burners.

Having begun the game with a clanger — his third in as many games — it was Arindam Bhattacharja’s saves that helped ATK, backed by a crowd of over 50,000, protect the 3-1 scoreline on Sunday. It was that kind of night, one where fortunes yo-yoed; one where the crowd was roaring nearly an hour after the final whistle.

Francisco Perdomo’s left hand was in play when he intercepted Williams’ pass but referee Ali Ebhrahim didn’t stop play. ATK protested but Perdomo’s out-step found Ashique Kuruniyan on the right. ATK then committed two errors to trail by the fifth minute.

Sumit Rathi’s failed tackle was the first. As Kuruniyan teed up the shot, Bhattacharja left his near post unprotected and Kuruniyan scored. Against the team with the best defensive record in ISL6, ATK now had to score three.

Roy Krishna got one following the kind of pass exchange ATK are known for. Edu Garcia and Williams worked in tandem to free Das who delivered for Krishna to open his shoulders and slam home a first-timer. 1-1 by the 30th minute and the crowd got behind the home team. Among them was ATK co-owner Sourav Ganguly trying to look impassive because he was sat next to Bengaluru FC owner Parth Jindal.

“That was a very difficult and a very crucial goal,” croaked Lopez having lost his voice.

Like at the Kanteerava Stadium one week ago, Bengaluru FC then defended in banks of five ahead of the back four. Like in the first leg, they got on Kevaughn Frater for Deshorn Brown around the hour mark.

Just when it looked like Bengaluru FC would shut out ATK, young Suresh Wangjam tackled Williams and the Australian made the most of it, going down.

“The second goal changed the momentum. We knew ATK had experienced players who could make the most of such situations and had told players to avoid body contact. It was a shame a promising 19-year-old made that mistake,” said Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat whose team has also exited from the AFC Cup.

Bengaluru FC still had chances but Sunil Chhetri missed and then Bhattacharja got big on Frater to deny him from a one-on-one situation in the 75th minute. “Had we been smarter in front of goal, this season would have been different,” said Cuadrat.

It was now ATK’s turn to apply the low block and, with a bit of luck, they held on.

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