Chhetri Scores Brace, Miku Back Among Goals As Blues Complete Double Over Islanders
Mumbai: A hat-trick may still elude him but Sunil Chhetri won’t be making much of the wait after his brace (43’, 52’) sent Bengaluru FC to the top of the table in a 3-1 defeat of Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena, on Thursday night. Miku (63’) took his tally to nine in the season with a smart free-kick in a performance that Albert Roca wanted his boys to deliver after defeat to bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos last Sunday.
Bengaluru took the pitch with more than just a few changes to the line-up that Roca rolled out in Delhi last weekend. A fully-recovered Udanta Singh, Erik Paartalu and Juan Gonzalez – all made the starting XI. The big inclusion however was that of Boithang Haokip who came in for an injured Edu Garcia on the wings in what was the Manipuri lad’s first-ever start for the club.
After what looked like turning into a half where the Blues would rue missing some very good chances, the breakthrough finally arrived. Looking to pick a pass from Miku after stitching together a move, Chhetri had his ankle clipped by Balwant Singh in the box and the referee had no second thoughts in awarding Bengaluru a penalty. Knowing he was up against a former teammate in goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, Chhetri veered from picking a corner and smashed the ball into the underside of the roof, leaving Amrinder no chance.
Earlier, Balwant was lucky to have remained on the pitch after elbowing Harmanjot Khabra in the face in the 38th minute. He received just a yellow card then, and was lucky to escape another booking for bringing down Chhetri inside the box, while conceding the penalty.
The Blues could have got the second half to just the start they needed had it not been for an uncharacteristic miss from Miku. Beating the last line of defence to get to the end of a perfectly threaded pass from Boithang, who was undoubtedly one of the performers of the night, Miku’s attempt to pick the top corner flew inches wide and the Venezuelan pulled his shirt over his face to hide his disappointment.
But Roca’s side didn’t have to wait for long as Chhetri scored his second of the night in the 52nd minute. Udanta, leaving his man for dead like he so often does, darted down and sent in a low cross that the captain finished first-time with class, once again into the roof of Amrinder’s net.
A lot had been made of Bengaluru’s dry spell of scoring from set-pieces and it took a fine bit of trickery to dispel the doubts. Earning a free kick on the edge of the box, Chhetri made a decoy run to the right in the box while Miku rolled a firm take in on the left to make it 3-0 and go level with FC Goa’s Ferran Corominas atop the ISL scorer’s chart.
In what was a small blemish to an otherwise perfect night, Bengaluru faltered in defence to let Leo Costa pull a goal back for the hosts in the 76th minute after the substitute was sent clear by Balwant from the left.
The final fifteen minutes saw an end-to-end battle, as the hosts tried hard to make a comeback into the game, while Bengaluru held firm in their own half and pushed ahead on counter-attacks holding on to their two-goal cushion.
With their seventh win of the season, Bengaluru moved to the top of the standings with 21 points, one ahead of Chennaiyin FC who have a game in hand. The Blues now take a break from League duties, as they head to Thimphu in Bhutan to face Transport United in an AFC Cup South-Zone Qualifier on January 23rd, before facing NorthEast United at the Fortress on Republic Day.