Mumbai: Mumbai City FC were still licking their wounds after succumbing to an unpleasant defeat in their opener against Jamshedpur. Cesar Ferrando’s men had just taught a perfect lesson to the Blues on how surrendering possession could hurt and they were made to pay the price dearly.
After escaping a draw against Kerala Blasters away, thanks to Pranjal Bhumij’s long-range stunner it was déjà vu for Jorge Costa. He was up against Miguel Angel Portugal – the Spaniard well known for his possession-based philosophy, with the FC Pune City gaffer even stating that “Costa must have prepared well for the match.”
His words would eventually prove to be right as Mumbai opened their ISL account in style along with securing the bragging rights over their rivals at the Maharashtra Derby at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
They broke the ominous hoodoo at home (their last victory against Pune coming back in the inaugural edition) as goals from Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos in the first proved to be more than enough in a contest that had the billing to live up to a spectacular goal-fest.
The whistle had just been blown and Pune was wasting no time, hurriedly chasing for the ball. Such was the urgency that Lalchhuanmawia Fania latched on the ball after a fiery duel on the left and spanked a cross from the left only for Emiliano Alfaro to head wide just under a minute.
With Marcelinho on the bench, Alfaro made amends for his presence by exploiting spaces behind the Mumbai defence with some clever runs. Diego Carlos was playing off the Uruguayan and wingers Ashique Kuruniyan, Nikhil Poojary also injected threat from the channels; the latter finding himself at the end of some good deliveries inside the box.
While the visitors lacked the cutting edge in the final third, Mumbai did not mess around with their chances. Midfield general Paulo Machado was top-notch with his distribution and it was his partnership with the effervescent Rafael Bastos that caused an endless amount of trouble for Pune’s creaky rearguard.
During the quarter mark, Machado found himself free on the left and curled a cross that kissed the inside of the post. The ball ricocheted after a deflection and Moudou Sougou positioned himself at the right place to ensure the deadlock was broken.
Things turned worse for Pune just before the first break. Soon after Alfaro was denied a shot on target at the other end, Mumbai broke on the counter with Bastos sending Sougou through on goal before a reckless challenge from Fanai brought him down in the penalty box. The Brazilian made no mistake, sending Vishal Kaith the wrong way and broke into the 'Bebeto' celebration to ensure that Islanders had the momentum swinging in their favour.
.@MumbaiCityFC picked up their first win of the season, courtesy two first-half goals by Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos.— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) October 19, 2018
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“The first half was good. We did better things with the ball compared to the other two games. But there’s always a scope for improvement and we much do better. As I said before, we are still building this team with a lot of new players and we don’t have a lot of time. I know it's not easy because we are playing for three points. But I believe we can do better than the last three games,” Costa analysed in the post-match press conference.
While Mumbai was keen not to let their opponents hog majority of the possession in the first half, they returned back setting up a different ploy. That was evident with the withdrawal of Sougou for Mohammad Rafique as the hosts surrendered possession and functioned as a cohesive unit, blocking any passing route between the lines.
“After the second half, I asked the players to have a good defensive organization and to have the ball but we did not. I think as a team we were much more aggressive without the ball. We had a lot of space to keep the ball, to play and try to score more goals. With the ball, we didn’t play good but without the ball, the boys fought with a good spirit. But in the end, three points will give us a lot more confidence,” the Portuguese tactician recalled.
In their two previous outings, the players were coming to grips with Costa’s philosophy, finding the right combination and balance. And here they functioned like a well-oiled machine to stave off any danger even after the inclusion of Marcelinho at the hour mark. Playing out from the back, Pune attempted to occupy the width and feed crosses for the two men upfront (Alfaro and Robin Singh) which was handled well by Subashish Bose and Lucian Goian in central defence.
“In the second half, we deserved more. We had the chances to score but today was not our day. We committed a mistake for the first goal and this was a key chance for Mumbai City. We tried to play open through the wings because they had set up defensively and we put in a lot of crosses in the box. We tried hard enough but Alfaro and Robin did not have enough chances to find the net. Even with Diego Carlos and Marcelinho.
"We had good possession of the ball and that helped us create more chances in the opposition box. I would like to play this way but the boys need to do more and score goals. In the statistical department, we clearly edged Mumbai. We deserved a better result but if you don’t score the goals it's impossible to win” Portugal explained.
For Mumbai, this is just the start of things. A loss, a draw and now a victory. The fact that Costa's men are finding their rhythm at the right time is a sign of good things to come.