Feliz Navidad, Almost

On A Day That’s A Pivot To Celebrate The Act Of Giving, Two Teams Went Head On And Refused To Part With That Inch. Then Bengaluru Blinked…

Christmas will break your heart
If your world is feeling small
There’s no one on the phone
You feel close enough to call
Christmas will crush your soul
Like that laid back rock ‘n’ roll

Christmas Will Break Your Heart – LCD Soundsystem

In red and white, they were dressed the part for Christmas, but that’s where the Santa-like similarity ended. The ‘ho ho ho’, wasn’t a conversation starter as much as it was a last laugh. They didn’t give. They took instead. ATK were desperate to break the hoodoo of never having beaten Bengaluru FC, and it would need a special day on the calendar to make it happen. One where the world believes in reindeer-hauled sleds zipping through the winter air, the existence of a bearded, heavy-set man who keeps a record of the naughty and the nice, and where an elf sliding down your chimney is commonplace.

There was no pile to choose from. It was just the one yuletide present, wrapped and kept under the tree, but with no name on it. If the standings were a measure of who had been good, then both Bengaluru and ATK were in with a shout. Sharing was an option, but both sides were willing to violate the Christmas spirit with greed. Only understandable.

A tactically heavy confrontation had ended with a smash-and-grab goal, and it had left every single soul in blue, in tatters – physically and emotionally. One foot in the Bengaluru dressing room post the game and you’d wager your wealth on a mortuary showing more sign of life. To say that the bivouac was a hive of sorrow would be sketching it accurately.

Carles Cuadrat had sat the boys down at half time, pored over a crystal ball and warned them about a ten-minute period of gusty winds. ‘They will come hard at us in the first ten minutes of the second half. We need to weather that. They will then retreat,’ he reiterated. The boss didn’t have to wait long for his ‘told you so’ moment, after David Williams scored two minutes into the second period. It was a goal that had the choir in Bengaluru swiftly turn the sheets from ‘Joy to the World’ to ‘Blue Christmas’ and then ‘Silent Night’.

Williams and Roy Krishna feed off each other’s presence, and this time it was the Fijian with the serving ladle. Rahul Bheke, however, did enough to read the pass and cut it out. The defender had little time to revel in the steal, when he had to go head-on with Jayesh Rane who gathered the crumbs from the clash and got the ball to Williams, after all. Unlike little Oliver Twist who was denied a second bowl of gruel, Williams would have his fill. A strike past Gurpreet’s right – one the ’keeper admitted he should have done better to save – shook the net, and with it, the foundation the Blues were laying.

The system that had served Bengaluru well for forty five minutes, and then one more, had to be abandoned for a new shape. The two boxers had gone toe to toe for a little less than an hour, and then one of them blinked.

With a fair amount of time left on the clock, Dimas Delgado had the best chance to pull Bengaluru back into the game when Khabra’s skip and cross came off Agus Garcia’s head and fell to El Mago. But so consistent is he with the complex ‘rabbit out of the hat’ routine that Delgado suffered a slip up when it came to the simple ‘disappearing of the coin’ act.  His side-footed volley went past everyone, the target included.

This was a one-goal game, and the hosts had already scored it.

Cuadrat stabbed the silence in the dressing room. ‘Bad decisions, bring bad results – it’s as simple as that. On the pitch were two sets of defences that wouldn’t give too much and the team that scored first would always end up with a big advantage.’ The boss then dragged the whiteboard closer to him. He fiddled with the magnetic coins in blue. ‘There were a lot of questions here, and here and even here,’ he said, pointing out to all the spaces on the pitch that Bengaluru could have done so much more with. ‘I would like my team to…bad decisions, bad decisions, guys,’ his voice trailed off, before he picked it up again. ‘We have to keep working. We have to keep learning.’

On nights where presents don’t come with name tags, swapping a little ‘giving’ for ‘taking’ will never really wipe the shine off the spirit of Christmas. The year taught us something new, so what if it was late as December?