Kolkata: Mumbai City FC were forced to show a different side to their game, resisting a constant threat on their goal by ATK Mohun Bagan as they sealed a hard-fought 1-0 win at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Saturday.
It was the league leaders' first 1-0 win in a season where they have raised the bar for attacking football, and it helped them become the first team to confirm a playoff spot this season.
Mumbai City FC picked up from where they'd left off last week, becoming an instant threat at the start with their swift and direct play. Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith faced a barrage of shots and single handedly kept the home team from falling behind the way Kerala Blasters had last week. Chhangte was through on goal twice after shaky defending from ATK Mohun Bagan, and in almost both cases was point-blank range from Kaith. In both instances, the goalkeeper came out on top.
In Diaz's absence, Greg Stewart pulled the strings from the central forward area, and soon enough both him and Bipin Singh were imposing themselves on the game as well. The home side, even though they matched Mumbai City FC for possession and got nearly ten shots away in the first half, didn't manage to test Phurba Lachenpa in the league leaders' goal.
Mumbai City FC's relentless attack was bound to cost ATKMB, and ultimately it was an error by Kaith that led to the goal. Kaith had Chhangte's long-range shot from a central area covered, but couldn't muster enough strength with his left arm to tip the ball wide as the visitors went 1-0 up at half-time.
ATK Mohun Bagan brought a lot more excitement to the second half and had the visitors scrambling early on. Liston Colaco had the best of these after being slipped into the right channel and firing towards the far post to force Lachenpa to stretch one-handed to his right to keep it out.
The home crowd was now firmly behind their team, and were almost given something to cheer for in the 58th minute when Ashish Rai cut one across the box for Hugo Boumous, whose first time shot was brilliantly tipped over by Lachenpa. Mumbai City FC showed signs of nerves around this point, and were forced to try and slow down their game. It was then ATKMB's turn to be a relentless threat. Between the 64th and 68th minute, particularly, the team shored up their fans as they took four corners, and forced three close-range saves in a short span.
Boumous was at the centre of most of these plays, without managing to find the net through Mumbai City FC's backs-against-the-wall defending. By the time he fluffed a shot over the goal in the 78th minute, ATKMB had taken 26 shots without success. Only one more was to come as Mumbai City FC held their nerve to ultimately take control and see off the game.
The win keeps Mumbai City FC in first place, and with Hyderabad FC dropping two points earlier in the week, stretches their lead to four points. They face NorthEast United FC at home on January 19, Thursday. ATK Mohun Bagan stayed in 4th place, only a point ahead of Odisha FC in fifth. They travel to play Chennaiyin FC on January 21, Saturday.