David Williams’ strike sends ATK to top after beating defending champs Bengaluru FC
ATK beat defending champions Bengaluru FC (BFC) for the first time in five attempts in the Indian Super League (ISL) spread over three seasons on Wednesday. Australian David Williams scored the match’s only goal in the 47th minute.
With 18 points from 10 rounds, ATK moved top but FC Goa, who have 18 points from nine games, can dislodge them in Chennai on Thursday. BFC stay on 16 from 10.
By the time BFC switched positions for Rahul Bheke and Juanan in the three-man central defence, Williams had done the damage. Bheke had a string of poor touches and mispasses in the first 30 minutes and nearly lost a ball to Jayesh Rane in the 41st.
The India defender had recovered then but when Rane pressured him in the 47th minute, Bheke couldn’t retrieve. Rane found Williams and the Australian banged in his fifth goal of the season with a shot so powerful that before Gurpreet Singh Sandhu could fling his 1.98m frame to the left, the ball had passed the India goalkeeper. “It was a good finish,” said BFC striker Sunil Chhetri.
“It was the kind of game where the team which scores first would win. We lost to the skill of one player. The strikers of ATK (Williams and Roy Krishna) are doing very well. They had played three days ago so we knew they would attack us in the first 10 minutes of the second half. We spoke at half-time about it,” said BFC coach Carles Cuadrat.
Rane was an important inclusion in central midfield in the way Raphael Augusto could not be for BFC, leading to the Brazilian being replaced in the 76th minute. “He has just recovered from a sciatic problem,” said Cuadrat.
That Arindam Bhattacharja in ATK goal wasn’t really called into action till the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time was proof of the kind of shift ATK’s outfield players put in to subdue a team that has the skill of Chhetri, the pace of Udanta Singh and big men in Eric Paartalu, Albert Serran, Juanan to exploit set-piece situations.
“The team was the Santa Claus tonight. I am very happy with the attitude they showed. We are a new team, we need time to be consistent but to beat a team as difficult as Bengaluru is good,” said Antonio Lopez Habas who said this was the first time he played a game on December 25.
With one win in their last five games, ATK had hit a block after winning three of their first five. Getting Krishna alone in front of goal inside the second minute, therefore, would have been just what they wanted.
Williams had found his former Wellington Phoenix teammate with a lob behind the defence and though replays showed Krishna may have been off-side, the flag had stayed down. The man with eight goals in nine games skewed his drive wide.
With Armando Pena --- injured Carl McHugh’s replacement is 15 days from full fitness, said Habas ---- and Rane in central midfield, ATK attacked BFC’s central defensive trio early in the game and after Krishna, Francisco Gonzalez got into a good position inside the first quarter. On the break, Michael Soosiaraj too had broken through twice.
BFC won a few free-kicks but with Sumit Rathi, 18, putting up a standout show among the three ATK centre-backs, neither was threatening. Rathi --- he is one for the future, said Habas --- also got an important interception in the 38th minute to keep an Udanta Singh delivery from reaching Chhetri.
Since BFC joined the ISL in 2017-18, ATK’s form had gone south. In 2017-18, they decoupled from Atletico Madrid and finished ninth. Last term, they led by Komal Thatal’s goal here before being unhinged by two strikes on either side of half-time. It also led to Kalu Uche being injured and with it evaporated ATK’s hopes of a revival.
The away game in 2018-19 ended 1-0. Paartalu had scored once each last term for BFC but on Christmas Day, the big Australian was reined in by ATK. It turned out to be a big night for another Australian.