Kolkata: Bengaluru FC, after Pune City and Chennaiyin were the third team to complete a double over defending champions ATK on Saturday. Having earlier defeated the Kolkata side 1-0 on home soil, ‘The Blues’ completed the rout with another 2-0 win, despite going a man down after Rahul Bheke was given marching orders for the two bookings he piled up in the space of six minutes.
The victory also their third consecutive after wins over Mumbai City and NorthEast United consolidated Bengaluru’s position at the top, with 27 points after 13 games — four points clear of second placed Chennaiyin who have 23 from a game less.
Captain and striker Sunil Chhetri however feels that his team will need four more points to guarantee their place in the top-four. “31 is the magical figure,” he said after the win over ATK.
“When we get 31, we will be comfortable. The way it’s going on anyone is beating anyone, so we can’t take any team for granted,” said the 32 year-old who with eight goals to his name is joint-third in the race for golden boot.
But Bengaluru would consider themselves lucky to win after ATK came close on multiple occasions, but failed to score for the second successive game. “My team was not really playing their game. ATK hit the post; I think they deserved a better result,” said Bengaluru coach Albert Roca.
He was referring to Jayesh Rane’s thumping header from a Bipin Singh cross that came off the upright. It really woke up the home side in the contest and had they been more lethal upfront, Bengaluru could have well gone home empty handed. Singh’s crosses on the night were menacing and found Rane unmarked thrice and although Rahul Bheke prevented him from equalising once — the winger failed to convert several easy chances.
“We were lucky to win game with 10 men and (especially) when we were not playing that well. There are big games ahead which we have to play well in. We are close to our first goal to be in last four. We have to be humble and work hard. We are physically fit; there are no injuries. It was a shame that (Rahul) Bheke got a red card,” added Roca.
Taking Harmanjot Khabra’s place — who was suspended for the game — in the right-back, Bheke was send off after two lunging tackles in the space of six minutes. “Everybody saw that he (Rahul Bheke) touched the ball,” said Roca. “They (ATK) were unlucky about own goal we were unlucky with referee’s decision,” added the former Barcelona assistant.
As for ATK, their fourth consecutive defeat and third under interim head-coach Ashley Westwood has put them out of the contention for play-offs, leaving them to play for pride.
Westwood’s place at the helm of affairs is itself under serious doubts after hat-trick of losses and when asked how would he motivate the team after their oust from the contention for play-offs, the Englishman said, “To play for contracts, to stay at the club. Playing for a career and for sustaining the livelihood. If you don’t improve and don’t play then you have to find a new club. Except for Prabir (Das) and Debjit (Majumdar), all of them have one year contacts.”
“Let’s just win the next game, restore pride and belief in the club,’’ added the former Manchester United academy graduate.