The tie between Odisha FC and Mumbai City FC was tipped to be an exciting affair between the two direct rivals fighting for a top-four spot. That Josep Gombau termed it a ‘six-point game’ summed up its significance.
Unfortunately, the fixture did not offer much, given only the hosts turned up at the Kalinga Stadium.
It was unsurprising that Odisha enjoyed more of the ball in the opening stages. Mumbai sat too deep in their own box and were conservative in their approach. They refrained from committing challenges higher up the pitch and gave Odisha too much space down the wings. That explains the statistic that the hosts delivered a whopping 23 crosses in the 90 minutes.
It would be hard to argue that Odisha deserved something out of the first half. Despite enjoying full control of the game, they rarely threatened the opposition keeper. The first 45 minutes hence failed to provide a single eye-catching moment at either end.
The hosts needed something special to break the deadlock, and it arrived in a combination of two of their most consistent players this season. Xisco Hernandez set up Aridane Santana for a simple finish after easing past Mato Grgic on the right. The marksman returned the favour later in the game to all but confirm the three points.
Albeit an easy one, this was not one of the prettiest wins for Odisha. Aware of Mumbai’s ability to wreak havoc on the counter, Gombau had his full-backs, Shubham Sarangi and Narayan Das, focus entirely on their defensive duties.
There were hence very little overlapping runs. Narayan, in particular, played it safe and rarely ventured forward to deny Modou Sougou the space to run behind him.
That central midfielder Xisco topped the rankings for top-speed until the 70 minutes says a lot about both Mumbai’s deep block and Odisha’s reluctance to push the full-backs high onto the pitch.
This restriction in mobility of the full-backs took a toll on the attack and the aesthetic aspect of the game. But Odisha clearly preferred the three points over beautiful football and executed the plan well to achieve it.
On the other hand, Mumbai have a lot to work on if they want to stake a serious claim for a top-four spot. Their lack of a Plan B once counter-attacking bore no fruit left the players clueless on the pitch. There was also a massive shortage of creativity, with Paulo Machado on the sidelines. To his credit, Serge Kevyn displayed an impressive work-rate but could not create quality chances.
The performances of both sides aside, the condition of the pitch at the Kalinga Stadium has come under scrutiny in recent times. Phil Brown, Gombau, Owen Coyle and Mumbai City assistant coach Marco Leite have all expressed their concern over the poor condition of the pitch.
It was under the limelight again in the game between Odisha and Mumbai. This matter must be attended to with urgency as a bad pitch not only brings down the quality of the football but also increases the risk of injuries.