A fine hattrick from Modou Sougou helped the Islanders pick up all three points in Kolkata and put an end to a three-match losing streak. The win against ATK also confirmed a second ISL semifinal appearance for the Islanders. It was a perfect response from Jorge Costa and his boys after going through a bad run of form. The club’s top goal scorer, Sougou also ended his barren run with a second hattrick this season to make it a magical night overall.
There were a total of five changes from Jorge Costa with Pranjal Bhumij being handed his first ever ISL start along with Lucian Goian and Subhasish Bose returning to the starting XI. The game didn’t start off on a high tempo with both sides vying for early possession and a safe passage of play. The first chance for the Islanders came in the 6th minute when a cross from Arnold found Sougou in the box who met with the ball with his head but it was straight into the head of Arindam Bhattacharya.
Not much changed in the next 15 minutes with chances being reduced to very few for both the sides. Pranjal showed good footwork to beat his marker and put in a teasing cross for Sougou but the ATK defence stood strong and cleared the danger away in the 21st minute of the game. The next attack for the Islanders involved Pranjal once again and this time it was a chipped pass to find the run of Sougou who finished the volley first time to beat Arindam and hand the Islanders a crucial lead. The scoreline read 1-0 after 26 minutes and it was the club’s top goal scorer who lead the charge.
ATK looked to fightback after going down but the Islanders’ back line stood strong. The hosts won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Edu Garcia failed to beat the wall in the 35th minute. The Islanders doubled their lead in a swift 11.5 seconds counter-attack that involved just three passes. Souvik Chakrabarti’s long ball found Arnold’s run and he put in a delicious cross which Sougou tapped in for his second on the night. At the stroke of half-time, Amrinder made his first real save and it was an important one as he dived low to his left to keep out Kalu Uche’s effort in the box. After 45 minutes, the Islanders were in the driving seat thanks to Sougou’s brace.
The second half began with the home side keeping more of the possession but not being able to create any real openings. Despite putting in some decent crosses and trying to open up the Islanders’ defence, ATK were unable to reduce the deficit. At the hour mark, the fate of the game was sealed after Paulo Machado played a brilliant through ball to find Sougou’s run behind the ATK defence. The forward made no mistake in a one-on-one situation and slotted the ball past Arindam to bag his second hat-trick of the season and silence the home crowd.
In a crucial game for both sides, the Islanders were in quite a comfortable position with a 3-goal lead. ATK were far from done and kept pushing ahead in numbers to get back into the encounter. In the 65th minute, former Islander Balwant Singh forced yet another top save from Amrinder after his header seemed destined for the bottom corner. A couple of minutes later, the pressure paid off for ATK as Andre Bikey’s powerful header beat our No.1 and the hosts were handed a lifeline.
Both sides opted to bring fresh legs. Jorge Costa got Bipin Singh in place of Pranjal Bhumij and Steve Coppell made a double change by bringing Ankit Mukherjee and Pronay Halder on for Pritam Kotal and Eugeneson Lyngdoh. ATK were on the hunt to pick up something from the game and nearly got their second in the 82nd minute after Kalu Uche beat Goian to the ball. He took one touch and tried to beat Amrinder but his effort flew well over the goal. It was a huge moment in the game with a little less than 10 minutes left to play.
But, the Islanders weren’t finished yet. Substitute Bipin Singh’s cross found Sougou in the box, a short pass from him found Arnold in the box. He took his effort first time with a lot of power on it and forced Arindam into a very impressive save to his right. In the 89th minute, Bipin came close to scoring against his former side after having a go from the left side of the box but his effort was just inches away from finding the far corner.
The night ended with a comfortable 3-1 away win for the Islanders as they bagged their fourth win in the City of Joy and also sealed a spot in the semifinals along with Bengaluru FC and FC Goa. All in all, this game will be one remember for a long time. The final league game for the Islanders is the Maharashtra Derby against FC Pune City on March 2 in Pune. Even with a semifinal spot confirmed, expect fireworks because a derby game never disappoints.