The Bengal Tigers are now out of playoffs contention while the Blues are are all but assured of a spot.
Bengaluru FC went past ATK 2-0 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Saturday in the Indian Super League (ISL). Jordi Montel’s unfortunate own goal had the defending champions trailing at the break before Miku sealed the points with his second-half strike. The loss almost wipes away ATK’s chances of reaching the playoffs, a feat they would miss for the first time in league history.
It was the host’s fourth loss on the trot and speaking to the media post the match was their interim head coach Ashley Westwood. The Englishman took the positives from the loss after admitting that it was an encounter that his team should not have lost. “We have to keep working,” he stated. “I have a little bit of confidence. Yes, it was defeat, but I don’t think anybody that watched the game thought we deserved to lose. We created some good chances, which we obviously did not convert. Robbie Keane comes on and gets three shot off in the space of 35-40 minutes. So, we got some encouraging performances.”
He further elaborated, “The boys are fitter, which is what we needed. Ashutosh (Mehta) looks stronger, Bipin (Singh) looks stronger, and we have to keep improving and keep working hard. It was disappointing that we had to make substitutions through fatigue, but we have to keep working to get fitter.”
When asked about the motivating factor that would keep the club going for the next few matches, the 41-year-old replied, “To win. To play for contracts. To play to stay at the club. The contracts of all these boys are up. Nobody is on a multi-contract apart from Prabir (Das) and Debjit (Majumder). So, in my eyes, the five games are to stay at the club.”
However, he also added, “If you don’t improve, if you don’t show that you want to be at the club, then you’ll be quickly released and you’d be looking for another club. So, the motivation is you are playing for your careers, you are playing for your livelihood and you are playing to do something that you love and get paid for. So, if you don’t improve, you might find yourself looking for another club.”
Robbie Keane finally got some game-time, coming on in the second half and making an impact straight away. Regarding the Irishman, Westwood said, “He’s been out for a while. He’s had an ankle injury that seems okay. He had not done enough work to be confident enough to play the entire 90 minutes. The last thing you want to do as a coach and even as a player is to enter the game and get another injury because you are not quite right. It is a progression thing. He’s progressed really, really well throughout the week.”
“It was always in my mind to maybe get him on the bench and maybe get him some minutes. As it happened, he ended up getting around 45 minutes and he’ll be a lot stronger come the next game. So, he’ll have to be sensible. He can recover now, train the next day and he can build up again. And I’m sure he’ll be available for selection,” he concluded.
Bengaluru now go four points clear at the top of the table, with chances of reaching the playoffs almost confirmed. The league debutants also had defender Rahul Bheke sent off halfway into the second half after picking up two yellow cards, despite which, they scored their second and held on for three points. ATK had their fair share of chances too, but the Blues defence stood strong.
Speaking to the media during the post-match press conference was Bengaluru’s head coach Albert Roca, who was pleased with Miku’s strike, but was also not carried-away. “The goal was really good for him (Miku),” stated the Spaniard. “It helps increase his confidence. But at the same time, he has to improve a lot of things yet.”
The 55-year-old, however, admitted that his team was slightly lucky to pick up three points. “For sure, you are always lucky when you win a difficult game which you haven’t played too well,” he inferred. “But it’s a win; you cannot complain too much. But it’s my job to be aware of the games where you are not playing too well, but you realise ways to get ahead. In big games, we would always have to play well to get results; not always would we be so lucky.”
Roca also disagreed with the referee’s decision to send Bheke off for a second bookable offence. “About the red card, I think he (Bheke) touched the ball,” he opined. “But then ATK were unlucky with the own goal and we were unlucky with the refereeing decisions.” Before signing off, he stated, “We have to look forward and keep working. This is the last message.”