Scoring early was the key: Brilliant Bengaluru resisted pressure from the city of Mumbai en route to a vital victory

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Bengaluru have kept their playoff hopes alive with a crucial win against second-placed Mumbai City …

Mumbai City was the clear favorite heading into Monday’s Indian Super League (ISL) game against a struggling Bengaluru.

The Blues had lost their last four games against the Islanders. Lobera’s team is the top scorer and has the second best defense in the league, so beating them was a monumental task. But the Blues managed to do it and scored a vital victory in their quest for a playoff spot.

Bengaluru hit early in the game and that was the key to unsettling a Mumbai city team that generally takes time to adjust to their pace and exert their dominance over opponents in games. The Islanders had failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four games, so it wasn’t about whether Bengaluru can score, it was more about how soon they can.

And they did it in seconds. Sunil Chhetri started the move with a pass to free Udanta Singh into space on the right flank. The winger crossed into the area for Cleiton Silva, who scored the opening goal. Mumbai City was shocked, and by scoring early and first, the Blues successfully forced their opponents to play the game according to the tempo set by the leading team.

The game soon became entertaining for the neutrals with both goalkeepers being called into action one by one. But it was Bengaluru again who turned out to be more efficient in front of goal. The Blues scored their 11th set piece goal of the season when Cleiton Silva converted a Xisco Hernandez free kick sent into the penalty area from the right flank.

The city of Mumbai was allowed to have the ball and the Blues did not care about their dominance. They weren’t in the mood to push high up the field throughout the game and instead opted to sit back and use their front-line rhythm to hit the Islanders on counterattacks.

Adam Le Fondre, Mumbai City, Bangalore, ISL

The Islanders, without Hugo Boumous to dictate the proceedings, ended up defensively with the ball at their feet and Sergio Lobera brought in Jackichand Singh in his place to midfielder Rowllin Borges to infuse more breadth into their game.

Mumbai came out after the break with a point to prove after a mediocre start and they scored in five minutes. Cy Goddard, who impressed with his runs throughout the match, found Adam Le Fondre with a pass into the box and the forward stepped in front of his marker Harmanjot Khabra and found the net.

However, Bengaluru played with a kind of intention that has been lacking in their displays this season and it took them seven minutes to restore their two-goal lead. Sunil Chhetri, even in his 200th appearance, raced as he would have on his debut, to beat Hernan Santana on a long goal kick from Gurpreet Sandhu and beat Amrinder Singh who had inexplicably drifted off his line.

There was football from end to end for the neutrals’ eyes to feast on in the second half as Amrinder and Gurpreet were kept busy between the sticks by the attackers on the field. Goddard, arguably the best Mumbai player on the field, helped Le Fondre again with a beautiful ball in the penalty area with the leading forward to bring his team back into the game.

Gurpreet was Bengaluru’s hero at the rear as he managed a tremendous fingertip save to deny Le Fondre from a short distance after Goddard once again picked the forward with a good pass.

The Blues defended as a unit and every Bengaluru player wanted to secure a victory and that made all the difference. Chhetri scored his second on a late-game fast break to seal three crucial points in his team’s run for the top four.

Sergio Lobera will be concerned about the team’s performance towards the end of the season. It seems that a bit of complacency has crept in and affected their performances. In the last five games, Mumbai has managed to win just one game and kept a clean sheet in none of them. His play-off rival, ATK Mohun Bagan, has won four of his last five games, to put things in perspective.

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