It’s not often you state that despite the defeat, it was the coach of the losing side who impressed. Such was the case when FC Pune City went down 1-3 to Bengaluru FC on Thursday evening.
Amongst all the teams who have played Bengaluru FC so far, the Serbian’s team managed to stifle them. NorthEast United did that to an extent in the last game but they couldn’t threaten enough while FC Goa just about survived with Bengaluru going down to 10-men with more than half the game left.
Although he was forced to sacrifice Marcelinho due to fever, Jonatan Lucca put in a commendable shift and alongside Adil Khan and Marcos Tebar, the trio kept a close check on Bengaluru’s midfield who could hardly create any chance whatsoever.
Tebar, in particular, was the most effective as he closed down the Bengaluru players with Dimas Delgado and Eric Paartalu not being able to exert themselves.
The ploy of playing an extra striker in Braulio Nobrega in order to take advantage of the inexperienced Pune defence didn’t fetch any rewards, at least in the first half. Udanta Singh was non-existent and Miku didn’t see much of the ball.
Sunil Chhetri, unlike himself, too gave the ball away in the opening 45 minutes but did manage to find the back of the net only to be wrongly booked for having handled the ball. That was the only piece of notable action from the visitors in the first half.
In the second half too, it was the Orange and Purple brigade who started the better of the two sides. Credit must go to Vishal Kaith who switched play within a matter of seconds as he relayed the ball to Emiliano Alfaro. The Uruguayan found Diego Carlos and the Brazilian wasted the opportunity to double the lead with a poor shot which didn’t even test Lalthuammawia Ralte in goal.
Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca acknowledged that the game changed its course following the 56th minute sending-off of Baljit Sahni. The makeshift left-back first committed a poor foul on Udanta in the closing stages of the first half before lunging on Braulio after the break.
Credit to the referee who played the advantage to the visitors only to stop the game thereafter and give him marching orders. Interestingly, Sahni was later seen in the VIP stand alongside his family later in the game – something which you would never see elsewhere in the world!
Thereafter, it was a case one way traffic. Bengaluru FC camped themselves inside the Pune half and created many opportunities. Miku, being the lethal goal scorer that he is, capitalized on the mistakes and added two more to his name.
Popovic later expressed his disappointment with Kean Lewis for not doing enough on the field. The likes of Ashique Kuruniyan and Lewis didn’t do enough to justify their selection and probably that highlights the poor squad depth in Pune. They do not have a second choice left back and the one they had in Harpreet Singh wasn’t even named on the bench.
Bengaluru survived a scare late in the game when Harmanjot Khabra was deemed to have pushed Tebar inside the box in what should have been a penalty.
However, the refereeing, just like in Chhetri’s first half goal, has been sub-standard across the season.
Popovic would go back to the drawing board and take positives from their first half display. For Roca, Miku’s brilliance won them a tie but a cause of concern was the manner in which they lost every aerial duel to Pune.