Erik Paartalu's towering header helped Bengaluru FC end the year on a triumphant note at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. The Australian's first-half strike was enough for BFC to overcome ATK on Thursday and extend its unbeaten run in the ISL.
Carles Cuadrat's men have scored in every game this league season and now lead second-placed Mumbai City by six points. ATK battled hard but missed a pair of gilt-edged chances and endured its first defeat since losing to the same opposition in October.
No joy out wide
BFC did most of the early running, dominating possession, steadily building moves from the back. But ATK did a fine defensive job. Its two banks of four left little space between the lines, forcing BFC out wide repeatedly. But there was no joy for the home side down the flanks either.
On the left, Kean Lewis failed to control the ball on a couple of occasions while on the right, Udanta Singh was marked very closely. An injury forced Nishu Kumar off the field a little after the half-hour mark; Rino Anto came on in his place. The opening goal came soon after. Rahul Bheke, who had drifted into the centre, cleverly switched play out to Lewis on the left flank. The latter swung a fine cross in and Paartalu, who had surged forward, guided a neat, looping header into the far corner. It was no more than BFC deserved for its endeavour.
ATK emerged for the second half with greater intent. The Kolkata side tried repeatedly to sneak in behind BFC's high defensive-line, sending long passes over the top. ATK nearly scored when a curling free-kick found Balwant Singh, who had ghosted in behind the wall. But the India forward's volley was poor and off target.
The visitor beat BFC's offside trap again a little while later when a long ball put Balwant through on goal. But the 31-year-old from Hoshiarpur put his shot wide with only the 'keeper to beat.
BFC now sought to attack on the counter, and Udanta Singh had a fine chance that he spurned. The game was now an end-to-end affair. ATK's Everton Dos Santos expertly controlled an aerial pass and created space, but having done all the hard work, he fired wide.
Sunil Chhetri, who had a quiet evening, missed an opportunity at the other end when he rounded the 'keeper and failed to find the net from an acute angle. But it did not come to matter.