With two late goals, ATK beat a resilient Real Kashmir FC side 3-1 in the Hero Super Cup pre-quarterfinals played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
The victory has set up ATK for a quarter-final clash against Delhi Dynamos FC on April 5.
ATK started the match on Monday with a lot of purposes and almost unlocked the Real Kashmir defence with barely two minutes on the clock. Manuel Lanzarote played in Edu Garcia with a lovely waited through ball, but the Spaniard’s final effort sailed over the bar.
The ATK midfield seemed to be dominating the proceedings early on, but Real Kashmir made sure they gave the Kolkata-based side a stern reminder of the danger they pose on the eighth minute. Completely against the flow of the match, Mason Robertson showed his own passing prowess, setting up Koffi Tetteh with room to run in behind the advanced ATK defence. With just Debjit Majumdar in the ATK goal to beat, the striker scuffed his shot wide.
The chance, however, acted as a confidence booster of the Real Kashmir side as they started being a lot more adventurous from then on. Robertson was the central figure for the Snow Leopards, strutting forward at will and even drew a decent save from Debjit.
However, it was ATK who would go on to break the deadlock on the 26th minute. Edu found Lanzarote down the right wing and the ATK captain played in a hopeful ball inside the Real Kashmir box on the half turn. Real Kashmir defender Aaron Katebe was caught ball watching at the far post, as Balwant Singh out-jumped him to bury his header inside the goal past a helpless Bilal Husain Khan.
It took Real Kashmir just five minutes to hit back. Abhash Thapa carried the ball forward with intent and fed Robertson on the edge of the ATK box. The Scotsman set himself up and fired in a precise low shot from range to beat Debjit at full stretch.
Both sides traded a few half chances for till the half-time whistle, with ATK getting better opportunities. But there was nothing to separate the two sides going into the break. The scoreboard read 1-1, with everything to play for in the second 45 minutes.
The second-half was a cagey affair with both teams trying their best to seize the initiative but failed to create any big chances in a match primarily dominated by two very well-drilled defences. Most of ATK’s goal threats came through set pieces, while Real Kashmir looked to break forward and hit their opponents on the counter.
As the match wore on, both head coaches started looking at their bench for inspiration and Real Kashmir gaffer David Robertson was the first to blink, bringing on Surchandra Singh in place of Ritwik Kumar Das.
Steve Coppell’s spark of inspiration was, however, already on the field for ATK. It was none other than Lanzarote, who time and again, has delivered for his team when they needed him the most. A corner kick routine straight off the training ground saw Edu pick out Lanzarote on the edge of the box. The Spaniard hit it first-time and placed the ball perfectly past Bilal to make it 2-1 on the 79th minute.
The goal prompted a change from ATK, with Everton Santos coming on for the provider of the second goal, Edu. The Brazilian substitute took just seconds to register his name on the score-sheet. Taking advantage of a mistimed header by Katebe, Santos controlled the ball just outside the 16-yard box and beat Bilal with a low shot to make it 3-1 in favour of the ATK.
Real Kashmir threw everything at the opposition in an effort to find a way back into the match, but a disciplined display in the final minutes by ATK was enough to see off Real Kashmir’s cavalry charge.