Bhubaneswar: It took ATK two late goals to beat a resilient Real Kashmir FC side 3-1 in the Hero Super Cup 2019 pre-quarterfinals played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Monday. The victory sets up ATK for a quarter-final clash against fellow Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) side Delhi Dynamos FC on April 5.
ATK started the match with a lot of purpose and almost unlocked the Real Kashmir defence with barely two minutes on the clock. Manuel Lanzarote played in Edu Garcia with a lovely waited through ball, but the Spaniard’s final effort sailed over the bar.
The ATK midfield seemed to be dominating the proceedings early on, but Real Kashmir made sure they gave the Kolkata-based side a stern reminder of the danger they pose on the eighth minute. Completely against the flow of the match, Mason Robertson showed his own passing prowess, setting up Koffi Tetteh with room to run in behind the advanced ATK defence. With just Debjit Majumdar in the ATK goal to beat, the striker scuffed his shot wide.
The chance, however, acted as a confidence booster of the Hero I-League side as they started being a lot more adventurous from then on. Robertson was the central figure for the Snow Leopards, strutting forward at will and even drew a decent save from Debjit.
However, it was ATK who would go on to break the deadlock on the 26th minute. Edu found Lanzarote down the right wing and the ATK captain played in a hopeful ball inside the Real Kashmir box on the half turn. Real Kashmir defender Aaron Katebe was caught ball watching at the far post, as Balwant Singh outjumped him to bury his header inside the goal past a helpless Bilal Husain Khan.
It took Real Kashmir just five minutes to hit back. Abhash Thapa carried the ball forward with intent and fed Robertson on the edge of the ATK box. The Scotsman took a touch to set himself up and fired in a precise low shot from range to beat Debjit at full stretch.
Both sides traded a few half chances for till the half-time whistle, with ATK getting the better opportunities. But there was nothing to separate the two sides going into the break. The scoreboard read 1-1, with everything to play for in the second 45 minutes.
The second-half was a cagey affair with both teams trying their best to seize the initiative but failed to create any big chances in a match primarily dominated by two very well-drilled defences. Most of ATK’s goal threats came through set pieces, while Real Kashmir looked to break forward and hit their opponents on the counter.
As the match wore on, both head coaches started looking at their bench for inspiration and Real Kashmir gaffer David Robertson was the first to blink, bringing on creative playmaker Surchandra Singh in place of Ritwik Kumar Das.
Steve Coppell’s spark of inspiration was, however, already on the field for ATK. It was none other than Lanzarote, who, time and again, has delivered for his team when they needed him the most. A corner kick routine straight off the training ground saw Edu pick out Lanzarote on the edge of the box. The Spaniard hit it first-time and placed the ball perfectly past Bilal to make it 2-1 on the 79th minute.
The goal prompted a change from ATK, with Everton Santos coming on for the provider of the second goal, Edu. The Brazilian substitute took just seconds to register his name on the scoresheet. Taking advantage of a mistimed header by Katebe, Santos controlled the ball just outside the 16-yard box and beat Bilal with a low shot to make it 3-1 in favour of the Hero ISL side.
Real Kashmir threw everything at the opposition in an effort to find a way back into the match, but a disciplined display in the final minutes by ATK was enough to see off the Snow Leopards’ cavalry charge.
After the match, both head coaches spoke at the post-match briefing and shared their views. ATK boss Steve Coppell revealed his strategy going into the fixture. “We were trying to retain possession as much as possible, and then get into positions from where we could hurt them. The goals we scored, all three goals, the second in particular, was tremendous. We’ve been trying to experiment a little bit on corners. Real Kashmir are a big team, so it’s not a great idea to put the balls inside the box all the time. The second goal was critical for us but the entire performance was all based on trying to control possession as much as possible. That was our strategy,” he said.
The Englishman also commented on Everton Santos’ goal which sealed off the result. “It was coincidence more than anything else that the ball ends up at his feet in a good position. He would be the first to say that it was just a happy coincidence. He’s a good player. You give good players those kind-of opportunities, they are going to score. It was a great strike. It made all three goals very special for us,” Coppell opined.
Real Kashmir head coach David Robertson, on the other hand, declared that he was proud of his team’s performance despite the loss. “I think we competed well. I think in the first half we did well against them. We play a certain style of football based on the players we have. We haven’t played for a number of weeks. It’s been very difficult for the players. Its been a bit up and down. Tonight, maybe it was one step too far for us. It was a great experience. ATK are a fantastic team. We’ve got to remember who we played against tonight. One of the big teams in Indian football,” he said.