Defending Indian Super League (ISL) champions ATK ended their 2017-18 league campaign with a 1-0 win over NorthEast United to finish ninth in the standings at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Robbie Keane (10'), making his debut as a player-manager after 'interim head coach' Ashley Westwood stepped down from his role after six losses, scored the only goal of the contest in the last match of the regular season.
Keane named himself as the lone striker as he made two changes from the 5-1 hiding at the hands of FC Goa. Keegan Pereira revived his role at left-back and Zequinha made a start after recovering from injury after six weeks. Avram Grant made five changes as he named a full quota of five foreigners as Helio Pinto made his second start of the season and Martin Diaz shifted to centre-back.
Maic Sema of Sweden tried to bring on the fireworks early on with a pacy run down the ATK box but thanks to some atrocious finishing, Soram Poirei saw the ball hit the side-netting.
After entering the field as manager and captain, the 37-year-old took the mantle of scoring the goal. Conor Thomas delivered a long ball from the centre-circle and the former Liverpool man went in between Anwar Ali and Jordi Figueras to guide the ball from the outside of his right boot into the net past a hapless Rehenesh T.P.
NorthEast United had their opportunities but decision-making in the final third eluded them. Halcharan Narzary was denied by a deflection off of Jordi Figueras and John Mosquera could not go for a shot a few minutes later as Soram Poirei had no hesitation in making a dive and slapping the ball away in the 36th minute.
In fact, the visitors had displayed much better football than ATK, who of course were winless since beating them in Guwahati in mid-January. With the lion's share of possession, NorthEast United's John Mosquera did not look confident enough.
Sibogankonke Mbatha, the latest ATK recruit from South Africa once again showed some skill and brute energy as he made a couple of penetrative runs but found no support as Keane had dropped deep and Zequinha was not a hundred percent fit after his troubles with his hamstring.
Grant's men did look likely to get an equaliser as contributions from Reagan Singh and Halicharan Narzary ended up either glazing the net or going wide. Marcinho and Danilo Cezario were introduced to strengthen the attack but to no avail.
Mosquera, formerly of Werder Bremen, kept on giving false hopes as he missed the easiest of chances, the biggest of them in the last quarter of an hour in front of the empty net.
With the win, ATK recorded a full set of points after going eight games winless and ended their league campaign with sixteen points. NorthEast United, with eleven points, become the second team in the ISL to finish bottom twice, after a similar fate in the inaugural season in 2014.