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'Not extravagant, but effective' - Antonio Habas' ATK puts a dampener on Chennaiyin's 'would be' miracle!

20:05 GMT+3 14/03/2020
Edu Garcia ATK
The Spaniard showed his pedigree with yet another ISL win, denying Chennaiyin FC from capping their miraculous run to the final with a trophy...

Three Indian Super League (ISL) finals, three wins - ATK's record speaks for themselves. They know how to win when it matters. Once you reach the final, it does not matter how you win. All that matters is that you win it.

And they imbibe that quality from their coach Antonio Habas who led the club to their first title back in 2014. He's pragmatic when it is needed, he throws caution to the winds only when it is absolutely needed. Against a Chennaiyin FC side full of confidence and full of themselves after a terrific run of results going into the final, ATK had to dig deep and choose their punches to quell the South Indian side's challenge 3-1 in Goa.

Given the fairytale story that Chennaiyin has scripted ahead of the final, Owen Coyle's men capping it with a trophy would've been a captivating tale. But ATK had other ideas. It was not easy by any means though.

They lost their topscorer and their biggest attacking threat, Roy Krishna, to an injury midway through the first half. But not before he made an impact, supplying the assist for Javier Hernandez's opener. Krishna's persistence saw him chase a long ball from John Johnson, hold off Laldinliana Renthlei before picking out Javi.

But Habas managed Krishna's injury by solidifying his midfield with the introduction of Mandi Sosa while David Williams took up the mantle of leading the attack. It helped that they were a goal up at that time, which helped the Spaniard make that decision.

Chennaiyin had only themselves to blame for going behind. They had made a great start to the match, putting the ATK defence under pressure. Rafael Crivellaro forced Pritam Kotal to make a goalline clearance early on before Andre Schembri set up Nerijus Valskis inside the box. The Lithuanian hit the crossbar from point-blank range. It was the kind of chance that forwards live to regret, especially in a high-stakes affair like a final.

Had that gone in, Chennaiyin would've been in command. But credit to ATK for bouncing back and forcing the opener shortly afterwards. Chennaiyin's defence were all over the park for a while after the Valskis miss. Lucian Goian was flying into challenges with utter disregard for the situation or the organisation of the backline. Laldinliana was poor on his wing throughout the game.

But as ATK withdrew into a low block after Krishna's injury, Chennaiyin dominated the game and forced a fair few openings. Valskis could have had a hat-trick in the first half on another day. Arindam Bhattacharya had a great game under the sticks, after a few high profile errors recently, especially in their 3-1 loss to Chennaiyin FC in Kolkata during the league stages.

Andre Schembri too saw a great header header from Crivellaro's dangerous freekick. The Maltese forward, playing his last professional game, was Chennaiyin's best player in attack, taking up intelligent positions to trouble the ATK defence.

But they held on, led admirably by John Johnson. Seeing the first half off without conceding was key for ATK. And they dealt Chennaiyin a sucker-punch right after half-time. Owen Coyle's side often start second-halves with greater intensity and purpose. But David Williams, whose clever feint had a huge role in the first goal, did brilliantly well to chase a ball over the top and slip Edu Garcia in who duly finished to double the lead.

From then on, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Chennaiyin. Habas' teams do not relinquish two-goal advantages that easily, certainly not in a final. They sat back, headed out whatever crosses that were pinged in and restricted space for the dangerous Crivellaro. Arindam stepped up when called upon too.

But the kind of domination Chennaiyin were having, one goal was bound to come and that happened from a Laldinliana cross that was pulled back to Valskis by Jerry Lalrinzuala. But ATK showed brilliant game management to kill the momentum and seal the win, with Javi's second goal in injury time the cherry on top of the cake.

Germanpreet Singh's injury did not help Chennaiyin too, with Edwin Vanspaul not offering much after coming on in the first half. Anirudh Thapa waged a lone battle in midfield as they came up short.

Chennaiyin wasted quite a few chances, which they will rue when they take stock of the game later. But it does not sully their season and they can walk out of the Fatorda with their heads held high.

But the silverware will gleam in red and white, for ATK were deserving winners.