FC Pune City and Bengaluru FC played out a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Indian Super League (ISL) play-offs at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Stadium, Pune. Had there been no ‘away goals’ rule in the competition, this would have been advantage Bengaluru FC. However, in the current scenario, it’s Pune who would back themselves to come good at the Kanteerava.
Albert Roca’s decision to field Boithang Haokip instead of Udanta Singh highlighted that the Spaniard didn’t wish to go all out in the first leg. Also Udanta hasn’t had the best of performances against Pune in the two league games.
You could probably see Bengaluru miss the creative vision of Edu Garcia who has been shipped away to China. Except Dimas Delgado, who was given a taste of physicality by Pune’s Marko Stankovic and Emiliano Alfaro, the JSW-owned outfit hardly created an opportunity of note. The only two which spring to mind were through set-pieces.
Ranko Popovic’s decision to shift Adil Khan to the right-back slot paid dividends. The former Sporting Clube de Goa player kept a close check on Sunil Chhetri, who didn’t have the best of outings by his standards. Khan never allowed Chhetri to get beyond him and given his physicality, there was always going to be one winner in aerial duels.
Sahil Panwar once again demonstrated why he is one of the best emerging talents from the ISL this season. Not only did he do his defensive duties with precision, he also moved forward to support his attackers.
Pune’s bad luck with injuries or having to make at least one forced substitution when playing against Bengaluru FC continued even in the play-offs. Ashique Kuruniyan, who put in a decent shift, had to be taken off before the hour mark. Earlier in the season, Baljit Sahni was red carded and Gurtej Singh had suffered from a knock and Pune’s plans against Bengaluru have always suffered as a consequence this season.
It wasn’t that Pune didn’t create opportunities. Marcelinho had a couple of chances where his decision-making deserted him and on another occasion, Isaac Vanmalsawma completely messed up a volley from close-range.
Pune are a side who have struggled on home soil this season. They have at least leaked in a goal against all teams except the bottom two, namely ATK and NorthEast United FC. Also, they have suffered five defeats from nine games in Pune.
Now compare this to their form on the road where they have only suffered one defeat which was to Chennaiyin FC, a game in which they dominated and should have possibly taken a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. In fact, that’s the only away fixture in which they haven’t scored.
What this suggests is that Popovic would have been happier of the two coaches going into the second leg with a 0-0 score. In the last league game between these two sides at the Kanteerava, Pune dominated the first half and it was the injury to Gurtej which allowed the home team to make inroads. The final result was a 1-1 draw. A similar score-line and Popovic’s 1000-watt smile would only get bigger.