Two moments, about half an hour apart, summed up Bengaluru FC's evening -- and a larger theme of consistency and identity this season -- against two-time champions Chennaiyin FC at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim on Friday.
The first came late in the first half. BFC had broken away on the right flank, with Suresh Wangjam and Dimas Delgado combining with a couple of short passes to work past the Chennaiyin midfield and then release Harmanjot Khabra on the overlap. With the Chennaiyin defenders backtracking, and the ball laid up on Khabra's favoured right foot, the recipe was perfect for a low cross to play in strikers Deshorn Brown or Sunil Chhetri.
He instead took the ball on his left, thought for a split second, and then nudged the ball backwards, losing possession as his teammate behind him failed to control the ball. Khabra could only offer a sheepish smile as his forwards wondered why there was no a first time cross.
The next came on the hour mark. BFC got a free kick over on the left, and after a usual routine of two players skipping over and across the dead ball, Delgado slipped the ball a touch forward for Cleiton Silva, who teed up Delgado for a vicious, swerving drive at goal. It dipped late towards Vishal Kaith's left corner, and the Chennaiyin goalkeeper had to pull out a full-stretch save with one hand.
Those two moments - laxity in open play, and alacrity on set-pieces defined BFC's performance.
Greater purpose in midfield
Delgado's creative effort marked a culmination of a brighter spell of play from BFC to start things off in the second half. In fact, his inclusion allowed BFC to play Wangjam in a more advanced role in midfield, and Carles Cuadrat took the option of playing Brown's pace up front ahead of Kristian Opseth.
Opseth hadn't been poor, but BFC had curiously bypassed their midfield for virtually the entirety of their previous match against Hyderabad FC. The long balls were done away with on Friday, and Delgado, Wangjam and Erik Paartalu contributed to some decent passages of midfield play. BFC also got their set pieces working in the first half, and got their just rewards when Chhetri eased a penalty past Kaith after Edwin Vanspaul had clumsily brought Silva down inside the box. This was Chhetri's seventh goal in six games against Chennaiyin, and considering how BFC's intensity appeared to drop off after this goal, perhaps one of the most significant he has scored for them.
It was a good phase of play for BFC, though, committing more players to attack and pinning Chennaiyin deeper in their own half. Both Cuadrat and Chhetri later reflected on how the team failed to kill off the game with a second goal. "We were a little bit sceptical [after scoring]. We fell back a lot after scoring the goal," Chhetri told the broadcasters. "It's a long league, and you understand the importance of the confidence three points gives you."
What kind of football must BFC play?
BFC are unbeaten in three matches and have just registered a hard-fought win against one of the better sides in the league. But are they playing the kind of football they would want to do on a regular basis?
A tweak to the lineup saw Delgado come into midfield, but their defence looked a little wobbly on Friday. The jury is still out on whether Brown or Opseth should play the centre forward's role, though early reason rustiness could be cited as a reason behind both not looking as sharp as they might.
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Wangjam has been a definite spark, calm and collected on the ball, a clever distributor himself, and more than capable of dropping back and supplementing the fullbacks with his pace.
And then there's Chhetri. He has just notched one for the season, but his influence on Friday was already visible in the number of times he created passages of one-twos, and got himself involved in the opposition box.
At full time, he could be seen shaking his head, relieved with the three points, but unsatisfied with the performance. Nevertheless, they are at five points from three, two more than where they were at this point last season. That they still made the playoffs, and came within one away goal of toppling ATK away in Kolkata, should tell you that writing them off is just not an option.