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Indian Super League

Relentless ATK reaped the rewards against NorthEast United

07:52 GMT+4 28/01/2020
ATK vs NorthEast United
ATK are back on top of the table as they continue their pursuit for the Asian Champions League group stage berth...

The 15,101 spectators present at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday knew what was in store for them right from the off. 

Withing minutes into the game between ATK and NorthEast United, Antonio Habas' wide men had taken control of the flanks and were bombarding forward with ease. The fact that ATK only managed a 1-0 win, that too thanks to a last-minute goal, is difficult to comprehend. 

NorthEast United's decision to drop deeper and field a low block, which Robert Jarni termed as a strategy to prevent quick counters, turned out to be a show of too much respect to the opposition. While the Highlanders did manage to stop ATK's counters, they still managed to create clear-cut chances from set-pieces and crosses, thanks to the quality of players at Habas' disposal. 

On another day, it would have been a landslide victory for the Kolkata-based club which now sits atop the table with the same number of points (27) as FC Goa, differentiated by goal difference. Thankfully for Habas, his side has a head-to-head advantage over both FC Goa and Bengaluru FC (as it stands), and are now the favourites to clinch the much-wanted AFC Champions League (ACL) spot reserved only for the table-toppers at the end of the league stage. An away tie in Bengaluru is the only major obstacle for ATK in the remaining four matches. 

ATK's biggest strength has been their firepower upfront. Roy Krishna, Micheal Soosairaj and Edu Garcia once again starred but wasted several chances. Soosairaj went closest to scoring a goal when he latched on to a ball into the box and beat the keeper but an alert Mislav Komorski produced a last-ditch goalline clearance to keep the scores level. 

ATK's squad depth has been talked about a lot and it was on show once again. Balwant Singh was brought on in the 90th minute to solve the team's profligacy and he turned out to be the match-winner, heading in a Javi Hernandez delivery into the box.

ATK continued their fine ride this season but NorthEast United's playoff chances are not looking good. They have two games in hand over the majority of their competition but at this rate (winless in 8 matches), they may not be able to give a tough fight for a berth in the top four.