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Habas’ pragmatism trumps Vicuna’s extravagance on ISL’s opening day 

All it takes is one chance, one finish. Antonio Habas knows this. Roy Krishna knows this. ATK Mohun Bagan played the way ATK have always played under Habas, sit back, absorb pressure, and pounce on any mistakes. And the Kerala Blasters defence gave them just that, a mistake so sloppy it was slapstick, Sergio Cidoncha clattering into teammate Vicente Gomez and heading the ball right into Roy Krishna’s path. Krishna’s finish was brilliant — on the run, hard and low to the keeper’s right with his weak foot, smack into the corner — the Habas blueprint of efficiency over extravagance thoroughly validated. ATK Mohun Bagan 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters. Score a goal, shut up shop, go home with the three points. As you were.

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Before the match Habas had warned Vicuna that the ISL was a different competition, and although the Blasters saw more of the ball, played the more fluent passes, the score eventually reflected Habas’ words. It’s a different competition, and Roy Krishna is different gravy.

It was a sloppy match, even sloppier than openers-of-tournaments usually are, with a non-existent pre-season and the vast off-season making the ball look heavy, as it sadly trundled about the middle of the field, the players doing the kicking still getting used to the act.

The Blasters started well, and were the better side for large parts. They played out of the back with religious consistency, Vicuna’s philosophy stamped all across them. They were also, though, terribly sloppy – some passes laboured across the face of the goal, some did not clear the first opponent in front of them. But they stuck to it. Jessel Carneiro passing it back from the halfway line rather than risk losing the ball encapsulated what Vicuna had spent the past few weeks hammering into them. The fact that it ran out for a corner showed, though, that Vicuna has a big old job ahead of him if he wants to keep at it.

They did show promise, glimpses of what they could become. Gary Hooper’s hold-up play was a special highlight, and they did have two exceptional chances – young Ritwik Das missing the ball from about three yards out, Sahal Abdul Samad slicing away an even better chance inside the six-yard box. But they failed to make enough chances for Hooper, who did most of his work with his back to goal, and turning him around will be an urgent priority for Vicuna.

ATKMB were themselves pretty bland for most of the game. Edu Garcia started in place of David Williams, a laid-back playmaker in the place of an all-action forward, and as a consequence Krishna saw very little of the ball. That he still fashioned three chances, that he still scored, was more a function of his own incessant running and pure predatory instinct than any cohesive build-up from those behind him.

While they were offensively uninterested, defensively they were solid. The game showed why Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan were such astute signings for Habas. The former sat and read the game with ease, the latter charged around lunging into tackles and hoofing the ball up the field whenever he got near it. If ever there was a role tailor-made for Jhingan, it was this.

The big worry for Habas, though, will be Michael Soosairaj. The flying left wing back was stretchered off after being kneed in the, err… knee by Kerala right back Prasanth Karuthadathkuni and his replacement Subashish Bose was nowhere near as threatening going forward. Habas’ gameplan depends on his wingbacks providing constant attacking width and he’ll be hoping Soosairaj’s injury is not serious, or that Bose steps up his game.

For now, though, this will do. When the going gets sloppy, the ones who don’t take too many risks, who don’t make too many mistakes stand the best chance. And so it proved.

After the match, Habas said, “I am very happy to win 1-0. After 8 months off, and no pre-season, what was important was the result rather than the score.” For Habas, the result has always been all that mattered. It’s a brave new season, but it’s the same ol’ Habas. And his team are still the embodiment of his thinking – pragmatic, efficient, utterly solid. 1-0 to the ATK ATK Mohun Bagan. Get used to it.

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