Road to Goa: Juan Ferrando’s magic takes ATK Mohun Bagan closer to glory
In what was their third consecutive semi-final, and an eventual second appearance in the final, ATK Mohun Bagan have shown their might as one of the most persistent teams in the league.
ATK Mohun Bagan have clawed their way through to the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 final after pipping Hyderabad FC in the penalty shootouts. In what was their third consecutive semi-final, and what will be an eventual second appearance in the final, the Mariners have shown their might as one of the most persistent teams in the league.
After traversing through several hurdles and battling through multiple injuries along their way, the Juan Ferrando-coached side managed to finish third in the league standings, with 34 points in 20 games. Setting up a knockout clash against Odisha FC at home in Kolkata, the Mariners emerged victorious in a 2-0 victory.
In his first full season in-charge, Ferrando has been a prime example of belligerence, propelling his side to their second-ever Hero ISL final. As the side gears up for a mouth-watering clash against Bengaluru FC, let’s revisit their journey so far.
Season opener agony against Chennaiyin FC
All eyes were rolling on Juan Ferrando as the Mariners lost their first-ever home game against Chennaiyin FC in a 1-2 defeat. Although the side opened the scoring in the first-half, the Mariners ended up chasing the Marina Machans in the latter half after the visitors netted two within 20 minutes. Despite having more possession and being the better attacking team, the side were unable to muster a win.
Conquering the rivals
Following their loss in the season opener, the side faced an uphill task with crucial fixtures against Kerala Blasters FC, city rivals East Bengal FC, and Mumbai City FC. With a commanding comeback 5-2 win against Kerala Blasters FC at their own backyard, Ferrando put the word out that ATK Mohun Bagan were back. Subsequently, in the first-ever Hero ISL derby played in Kolkata, in front of a staggering crowd of 62,000+ supporters, Ferrando took home the bragging rights in a feisty clash that ended in a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Manvir Singh and Hugo Boumous.
Nerve-wracking contest against Mumbai City FC
Up against Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City FC, the Mariners went down early through a Lallianzuala Chhangte goal. The side, however, managed to fight back through a Joni Kauko goal early on in the second-half. In an end-to-end action that was equally poised on both ends, the hosts took back the lead through a Rostyn Griffiths’ goal. To add insult to injury, Lenny Rodrigues received his marching orders as he received his second yellow card and the Mariners were now down to 10-men. With the game headed for a Mumbai City FC win against ATK Mohun Bagan, Ferrando pulled out a trump card as he put on Carl McHugh for Hugo Boumous, who eventually scored the equaliser in the dying minutes of the game.
First-ever loss to FC Goa
It was a nightmarish outing for Juan Ferrando’s men as they were thumped by FC Goa in a 3-0 loss. The Gaurs outsmarted them with their brilliant attacking display and kept the Kolkata side on the backfoot throughout the game. It was the first game of the season where the Mariners failed to have a single shot on target. To further worsen things on the night, midfielder Joni Kauko had to be stretchered off the pitch after sustaining a grievous ACL injury and was later ruled out for the season, accompanying Florentin Pogba on the injury list.
Four-game unbeaten run
The Green and Maroons fought back after their loss, and they did so in some style. A series of 1-0 victories against table toppers Hyderabad FC, Bengaluru FC, and Jamshedpur FC followed by a goalless draw against Odisha FC resulted in the side drifting towards the upper half of the table.
Shocking defeat against NorthEast United FC
It was an upsetting and a disappointing night for the Mariners as they became the first and eventually the only team to lose against NorthEast United FC. Being the better attacking team yet again, the side couldn’t connect the dots and convert their chances while being without their injured talisman Hugo Boumous. A Wilmar Jordan headed goal against the run of play was enough to give the Kolkata side a heartbreak and earn the Highlanders their first three points of the season.
Down but not out
As the injury niggles continued to plague ATK Mohun Bagan, the side kept searching for breathing space as they managed to secure just two wins in the following seven fixtures. Scouting players from the transfer market, Ferrando managed to procure like-minded players that could adapt and suit his team, but the side were still lacking chemistry and creativity in the attacking front. They dropped points against Mumbai City FC, Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, Jamshedpur FC, and Hyderabad FC in the process and that raised questions over their seat in the top six.
After an unsettling run of results, Ferrando’s men were up against Kerala Blasters FC and East Bengal FC in their final two fixtures. In a must-win game against the Blasters to secure qualification into the playoffs, the Mariners didn’t disappoint. It was another night of a comeback victory as the side – after going down through a Dimitrios Diamantakos’ goal – fought back with the help of a Carl McHugh double against 10-man Blasters side as Rahul KP received a double yellow.
The Kolkata derby was the next and final obstacle for the Mariners in the league stage. Deadlocked in the first-half, there was plentiful action from both sides in an exhilarated atmosphere at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan. It was a tale of second-half heroics yet again as Damjanovic fired home his first goal in Green and Maroon colours to hand his side the lead followed by a Dimitri Petratos’ strike to bury the game. The win ensured the Mariners’ qualification in the top four as they finished third in the league standings.
Knockout dominance over Odisha FC
Playing in front of the home crowd, the Mariners held an upper hand against a side that held a poor away record. Despite the Kalinga Warriors having more of the possession, they couldn’t break through the Green and Maroons who had kept a stronghold at the back throughout the game. In the 36th minute, Dimitri Petratos sent in a quick corner which was then cheekily back-heeled to find Hugo Boumous who fired it across to hand the lead.
Trailing and chasing the game, the Kalinga Warriors were yet again outclassed, this time in the middle third, as Carl McHugh recovered the ball with a clever tackle that made its way to Boumous who played it onto McHugh as the latter squared it off to Petratos who smashed it past Amrinder Singh to put the game to bed.
Road to Goa
The Mariners faced a tremendous assignment as they set up a titanic semi-final clash against reigning Hero ISL champions Hyderabad FC. Dubbed as the battle of two of the best defensive sides in the league, there was no differentiating both sides, with neither side able to capitalise on the other offensively whilst being defensively sound.
The first-leg of the semi-final, played at GMC Balayogi Athletic Stadium in Hyderabad, saw each side having their fair share of chances. However, it was the defences of both teams that came out on top on numerous occasions, nullifying the attacking threat.
With no team holding an advantage, the two teams started from scratch in the second-leg. ATK Mohun Bagan started the game on the front foot right from the get go and dominated the proceedings. However, Manolo Marquez’s men were instrumental in sustaining the pressure and relied on their defensive tactics to slog through the game.
The situation was unchanged as the game went into extra-time, with neither side looking aggressive in the attack and were maintaining their defensive stance. The game headed towards penalty shootouts and Vishal Kaith shimmered after making a crucial save to deny Javier Siverio. At the end of nine penalties, it was skipper Pritam Kotal who slotted past the final penalty to land ATK Mohun Bagan into the Hero ISL 2022-23 final.
A massive, hard-fought, and a spirited season for ATK Mohun Bagan has resulted in the side being one step away from eternal glory. Having been on the losing side for once, the stage glimmers for them to end the quest for their first-ever Hero ISL silverware on Saturday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Fatorda, Goa.