Pre-Game Meetings Are As Good As Closed Training Sessions, For What’s Passed On In Those Few Minutes Is Sacred, As Wednesday Night In The Dressing Room Would Tell Us…
As he patiently waited pitch-side for his turn to fulfil post-match broadcast obligations, Carles Cuadrat – thumbs twiddling – found company in David Gilmour over the PA system at a deserted Fortress. Coming back to life was pretty much what the Blues had done on Wednesday night, and on so many other nights, so far this season. The good people at the channel let the Floyd classic run its course of six minutes and seventeen seconds.
Only three days ago, Bengaluru’s cloak of invincibility had been pulled off. The momentum had been tripped and everyone around sniffed blood. The process would have to start again. This was no Jenga tower. It was an eleven-game unbeaten run that had come to an end. The process would have to start all over again and NorthEast United weren’t the side you would have picked to begin it with.
Miku was at the Fortress with Nishu for company and a cup of coffee that he probably had no interest in. It’s been a long layoff for the Venezuelan and there’s nothing more frustrating than to watch helplessly from a plush seat that keeps getting more uncomfortable with every passing game. To compound Bengaluru’s woes, Xisco Hernandez joined the growing list of injuries after being on the receiving end of a cynical challenge that went unpunished at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Cuadrat, yet again, would have to dabble with positions and the ever-dependable Harmanjot Khabra packed his bags to move from defence to the midfield. The jigsaw involved Rino Anto coming in at right-back and Kean Lewis moving up on the left. To have a talisman spend eight games out can take its toll and no matter how the season ends, this effort to pull through will always be remembered with awe.
Bengaluru began moving the ball around with aplomb and it was a set-piece that handed them the opener. Needless to say, Cuadrat was grinning from ear to ear. Four men stood over the ball just ten yards ahead of the NorthEast dugout. Rino ran over it and towards the Bengaluru goal, Khabra darted down the right and Bheke had a jog in Rino’s direction. The NorthEast coaching staff were swift to point at Khabra as the man that the white shirts needed to track. Dimas Delgado, meanwhile, rolled the ball to Sunil Chhetri who had peeled away from the congregation in the box and lifted over a first-time pass for Udanta Singh who darted into the box and sent a low, hard pass that Mislav Komorski could only turn into his own net. Khabra didn’t get the ball. He was never meant to.
Chencho had his tickets to Imphal for the morning of Thursday, booked. But that wouldn’t deter the boss from turning to him on the bench as the skirmish on the other side of the white line showed ample promise of getting uglier. NorthEast United were a goal down, but had their tails up in the chase for parity.
It even wouldn’t deter the Bhutanese from giving the crest with the two-headed bird everything, knowing well that he would be pulling on a different shirt before the sun would set the next day.
A momentary lapse of concentration, a stray punt and a quality finish from Federico Gallego meant the visitors were back with a retort of their own. The NorthEast bench went that extra yard to celebrate their comeback. Then in a matter of four minutes, Eelco Schattorie’s side could have had two more goals and all three points. But there was the small matter of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Chhetri’s often finished training sessions, jumped into an ice bath and – out of context – spoken about the travails of coming up one-on-one against Sandhu. “With every touch you take, he keeps getting bigger, to a point where you can’t really see the goal behind him.” This won’t be Greek to Panagiotis Triadis.
Bengaluru needed all of three minutes for the NorthEast striker to sink deeper in regret. Bheke launched a throw that Juanan Gonzalez flicked with his head at the far post. Replays show Chencho moving smartly to free himself off his marker before prodding home from close. The goal wasn’t half as spectacular as the equaliser he turned up with in Guwahati. But this one was a winner and automatically, priceless.
Cuadrat pushed the Bhutanese ahead to lead the celebrations and the boys wasted little time in scooping him up and hurling him in the air to songs from the West Block. Later, in the dressing room, the boss would explain his decision of loaning the Bhutanese out, to the whole team. He didn’t hold back in praising the youngster’s professionalism and thanking him for his two rescue acts against genuine title contenders.
“Today, you showed a big heart. And that’s what we had asked of you before the game,” Cuadrat would tell the team. Turns out every pre-game meeting isn’t about copious amounts of opposition footage, false nines and attacking transitions. Sometimes all that the boss asks for is heart.
An afterthought to The Afterthought was added on Thursday morning, as Chencho’s flight landed in Imphal. Cuadrat gave us his thoughts on the winger’s move and insights on the new Spaniard who was due to land later that night. And just as the line’s drawn to our notes, the boss reflected on the victory. “Somehow this game reminds me of the World Cup final of 2010; Andres Iniesta was the hero that night. You won’t find a single person who doesn’t remember his goal. But a lot of people have forgotten that it was Iker Casillas’ right foot that had kept Arjen Robben’s shot out moments earlier.”