Picture this: Hyderabad FC are lacking their usual oomph and are struggling to break down a team challenging for top honours in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). HFC, as has become the norm lately, string together neat passing patterns but the finishing touches – so often applied by Bartholomew Ogbeche, has just gone amiss.

The game, which has the potential to cast them firmly into the upper echelons, meanders towards a drab conclusion. And then, just like that in the second half, Hyderabad FC find a way to make the net ripple.

For much of the encounter, they have not been able to create as much space as they would have wanted. Yet, they manage to carve open the opposition rearguard just enough to nudge ahead.

Once they propel themselves into the ascendancy, there is no looking back. They throw the kitchen sink at their opponent and fashion a two-goal cushion – a cushion that soon swells to a three-goal margin.

For a moment, everyone at the venue is taken aback. Not just because the result has been put well beyond doubt, but also by the clinical edge HFC have portrayed when it has mattered. Some feel that that has happened because they have generated a head of steam and that their tendency to start slow will catch up at some time.

That, though, couldn’t have been farther from the truth. If anything, this encounter, which saw them begin the match sluggishly, is the anomaly, with free-flowing starts very much being the norm.

From a pure numbers perspective, Hyderabad FC have taken the lead eight times already this season. Of those, they have not won just a solitary contest (against FC Goa). On all other occasions, they have surged into the lead and have put the game to bed.

Read: Hyderabad FC vs Kerala Blasters FC: The battle of the impregnable defences

Apart from that, Hyderabad FC have been very efficient defensively. Through the course of the campaign, they have only allowed 10.47 shots per game – a tally well below the league average of 13.26 shots per game. They have also not allowed opposition teams the requisite time and space to create chances. So far, they have given up 6.82 chances per game – again, a tally that is exceptional, considering the league average stands at 9.07.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned aspects have been the distinguishing factors for Hyderabad FC. They have developed an uncanny knack of getting ahead in games and have been strong enough to prevent clear goal-scoring opportunities.

That has forced teams to go searching for opportunities and allowed Hyderabad FC to sit back, soak up a little pressure and capitalise on the counter-attack. With clinical striker of Ogbeche’s ilk, that ploy has worked an absolute charm.

In many ways, Hyderabad FC’s method is one of the more foolproof approaches to grind out results in the Hero ISL. So much so that Kerala Blasters FC have nearly followed it to the tee.

While HFC have lost just a couple of points from winning positions throughout the season, Kerala Blasters have thrown away only four points under similar circumstances. Defensively too, they have been brilliant. Though they’ve not been as stingy as Hyderabad FC, their tally of 12.69 shots conceded, 3.44 shots conceded on target and 8.25 chances given up (all stats per game) isn’t shabby.

Thus, it would be interesting to see what tack both sides adopt come Wednesday. Both know what has worked for them and usually, that would be enough to devise a plan. Both will want to score first but both will also know that it will be tough to create openings. From a broader perspective, that is what arguably sets apart the truly good teams from the rest of the pack through the course of the season.

The funny bit, however, is that congruent methods have worked for Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters FC, meaning that someone will have to look for a slightly different modus operandi. That this contest is coming when the race for the top four is heating up, only adds to the theatre and of course, the intrigue.

Goals win games of football and that much has been clear to anyone who has watched even a solitary fixture of football. This encounter, though, could be decided by whoever lands the first blow, considering both rarely fail to optimise winning situations.

And, in sync with their fortunes in 2021-22, a minute step forward could ultimately morph into the giant stride that differentiates a ‘so-close-yet-so-far’ season and a campaign where all objectives have been achieved.