I-League 2017: Khalid Jamil's Aizawl outplay Mumbai FC
“They are not my opponents. This is my club, I suffered a lot. I did many things for Mumbai and I feel very emotional at this point because I started my career here. Whatever I have achieved started from here. It is both a sad and good day”.
Nostalgia put on the back burner
As the referee blew the final whistle, Aizawl F.C.’s manager, Khalid Jamil experienced a bittersweet moment. His side had just beaten Mumbai FC 1-0 in Sunday’s I-League encounter. The victory kept the Mizoram-based side’s unbeaten run intact this season after 4 games (3 wins and a draw) which now see them only behind Mohun Bagan on the table. Mumbai, on the other hand, occupy the 5th spot with 6 points.
Having managed Mumbai for 7 years (2009-16), Khalid was in no mood to celebrate after the final whistle. To him, beating Mumbai was painful but necessary and rightly so. The Kuwait-born, Indian international was an integral part of Mumbai’s I-League set up ever since he took up the coaching role way back in 2009.
But all that took a back seat at 7 pm on Sunday. Aizawl descended upon the city of seven islands with only one objective in mind – maintain their unbeaten run. They achieved this feat without having to exert themselves.
Khalid Jamil’s tactics puts Mumbai on the backfoot
Mumbai started with a 4-2-3-1 formation but it transformed into a 4-3-3 as the night progressed. Coach, Santosh Kashyap deployed Hitesh Sharma, Thoi Singh and Nikhil Kadam up front. It looked like an extremely promising combination on paper but proved to be inefficient on the pitch. The absence of a target man rendered Mumbai’s attacking threat harmless.
From minute one, Mumbai never looked like the home side. The visitors dominated possession, pegging back the home side who had to settle for this throughout the night. The fact that Mumbai lacked a number 9 up front meant that the home side had to play their way through Aizawl’s defence.
Nikhil Kadam had an impressive game on the left wing. The 22-year-old used his pace and trickery to keep the opposition defenders on their toes all night long. Kadam was the sole figure who instilled hope among the home crowd.
But there was little he could do all by himself. Mumbai looked a man short when approaching the final third of the pitch. Aizawl’s centre back’s Kingsley Obumneme and Zohmingliana Ralte didn’t have an imposing figure to track inside their box. It meant they could deploy an additional man on Kadam whenever he looked to run towards goal.
Nikhil went on numerous solo runs before eventually being outnumbered or taken down cynically. Every time he looked up to find a target inside the box, he couldn’t spot one.
Even if he did spot his teammate Hitesh Sharma, there was no way he’d win the physical battle against Nigerian, Kingsley. The centre-back had the measure of Sharma throughout the night and rarely put a foot wrong.
When Mumbai did attempt to counter attack, they were easily disposed off the ball without much hue and cry. They didn’t have anyone who could hold up play and bring in other players into the fray.
Hitesh attempted to play that role but the diminutive forward had a torrid time holding on to the ball. He came out 2nd best in the physical battle. Kashyap was asking a lot of his players and his strategy eventually lacked a final product.
Far too many times, it was Hitesh and Nikhil up against the back four of Aizawl. Mumbai were reluctant to commit too many numbers in attack and their conservative approach eventually proved to be their undoing.
The visitors scored courtesy a well-worked out move from the counter. Midfielder Mahmoud who began the move from midfield, ended it with a fine side-foot finish to give his side 3 crucial points.
Lack of target man hurt Mumbai
At the post-match press conference, the coach was asked if the absence of a target man hurt his side to which Kashyap replied, “You felt so? You’re right, we missed that (a striker). But I am happy, results will come. The players gave their best effort and that’s very important.”
While Kashyap attempted to defend his players, the disappointment on his face was evident. Having begun the season on a positive note, his side will now head into their next encounter against Shillong Lajong, hoping they don’t lose a third on the trot. Four away games await Kashyap and his men.