Mumbai City FC and ATK found their match in each other at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday. Given the similar style of play and the approaches the two coaches " Jorge Costa and Steve Coppell " usually adopt, it was not unexpected. But the manner in which it all unfolded wasn't pleasant to watch.
The two teams matched each other for indiscipline, lethargy and a general lack of quality on the ball, especially in the final third. The few opportunities that fell the teams' way were off errors made by the opponent. As it turned out, neither team showed the quality or belief to take advantage of it.
By the time the referee blew the full-time whistle, the prevalent inevitability of a goalless draw had sucked the life out of the 4,623 supporters at the Mumbai Football Arena, a game most of those would like to forget.
Defensively, both Mumbai and ATK were fairly solid barring a few hiccups. But their misfiring attacks did each other's defences a great service by being sloppy, indecisive and lacklustre in the final third.
The routes both teams took to initiate attacks were fairly predictable. Mumbai City FC launched long balls onto their forwards hoping for Modou Sougou and Arnold Issoko to conjure something up using their physical strength. Matched muscle to muscle by ATK's John Johnson and Andre Bikey, the duo found little joy.
ATK were trying to play through former Mumbai City FC forward Everton Santos, who was the brightest attacking force on the field. He did well to set up a chance for Komal Thatal early in the first half, but the youngster scuffed his effort as the opening went begging. Santos seemed to have the measure of Anwar Ali all evening, but ATK couldn't make the most of that situation. Balwant Singh, Manuel Lanzarote too had ineffective outings for the visitors.
Apart from a lack of energy, the decision-making of the players on the ball was way off the mark. Both teams ended with poor passing accuracy (56 percent for Mumbai and 55 percent for ATK). This was the only occasion in the ISL this season where neither team managed a passing accuracy above 60 percent.
Fragmented attacks led to players trying their luck from distance, which unsurprisingly yielded no success. Mumbai and ATK managed just four shots on target among themselves, none of which were from inside the penalty area. It is a first in the ISL this season, and a statistic neither team would be too proud of producing.
Both managers accepted the result as a fair one at the end, and both seemed pretty content with the share of the spoils after a game that never came to the boil.
"I am slightly disappointed, but it was too close to call. We created problems for ourselves in the second-half. We were always trying to get our noses in front. The odd yellow card had disrupted our attacks. They have had three great results and yet we were still more on the front foot than they were. So, in a way, I am reasonably pleased," ATK manager Steve Coppell reacted after the game.
His opposite number portrayed similar emotions. "There were positive and negative things. The result, in my opinion, is a fair result. We had only one real chance to score. We fought a lot and ATK also fought a lot. It is one point extra. This is not what we wanted before the game, but it's fine," Mumbai City's Jorge Costa expressed.
The two gaffers seemed to be in agreement in criticising the frequent international breaks, which they felt disrupted their team's momentum after positive results in their previous matches.
"This break was not good for us as it was difficult to recover the focus. This week's training sessions have been one of the worst for us, so I take a point from the game in that context," Costa suggested. Coppell too brought up that point in the post-match press conference revealing how his players have struggled to build any kind of rhythm.
"Although we played eight games, I never really felt that we got into a rhythm. All players like to play games regularly. So, it is difficult to pick up again. Now we will see. We have five games in 19 days. This is a very different challenge to playing just one game in 23 days. We will see how to tackle it," the former Jamshedpur FC boss added.
Attempting to reason for the two sides' sloppiness on the ball, Coppell felt the grainy nature of the pitch at the Mumbai Football Arena made it difficult for players to pass the ball effectively on a pitch of such nature, the weight required on the ball is often different from other venues.
"The pitch here in Mumbai is one of the grainiest ones in the ISL. The ball spins after a time, so you got to hit it harder for it to reach your teammate. In trying to be sure, players tend to over-hit the ball, and the passing accuracy suffers," Coppell analysed.
The general consensus after a damp squib was that of relief than joy for both managers. A point was certainly a positive outcome on a night when neither team deserved to get anything out of the game based on their performance.
If in football, points were to be awarded on basis of performance and not the scoreline, both teams would've perhaps returned empty-handed. For football's sake, it's best to forget this footballing tragedy and move on.