It's moments that decide football games, and NorthEast United v Mumbai City was defined by two.
The first came just before half time; Ahmed Jahouh sliding into a tackle so late that the ball was not even in the same frame by the time he made contact. The foul itself was more incompetent than violent, but such gross incompetence is equally liable to be punished by a red.
The second came just after the second half started, 48 minutes in. NorthEast had started on the front foot, trying to make the most of their numerical advantage. Dylan Fox headed a cross from Luis Machado back into the six-yard box, Rowllin Borges stuck out an arm, and the whistle was blowing before the ball hit the ground. Kwesi Appiah converted with ease, sending Amrinder Singh the wrong way before calmly slotting it in, setting up an unlikely 1-0 win.
What would have made it even worse for Mumbai was that Jahouh had been running the show just before that moment of madness.
Lazy, accurate volleyed crossfields and cute dinks served as embellishments in a performance that saw the ball, and the game with it, simply go where he asked it to. Every time you looked at the screen, it looked like Jahouh had just made another pass. In the opening thirty-five minutes, Mumbai City had 70% of the possession.
Then Mr Hyde turned up.
But NorthEast defended solidly, and for all their possession, Mumbai had no penetration, even when Jahouh was on the pitch. Dylan Fox and Benjamin Lambot were immense in the middle, Ashustosh Mehta and Gurjinder Kumar staying back and protecting the flanks. Subhashish Roy Chowdhury behind them was yawning in that NorthEast goal. Khassa Camara, screening the back four, was everywhere, putting out fires, passing the ball out, getting on the end of that ludicrous Jahouh challenge.
It didn't help Mumbai that Adam Le Fondre looked a little lost on the right wing, an arch penalty box predator completely out of his comfort zone to accommodate another. Even this early, you can see that how Lobera solves this puzzle will decide Mumbai's fate this season.
If the first moment had stunned Mumbai, the second floored them. It was a blow that landed as much on the scoreboard as on the collective psyche of the team. For the remainder of the match they were awful, not able to string three passes together, not able to mount a proper attack. NorthEast walked it. They were barely troubled, and hell, even looked the side most likely to score another goal.
Gerard Nus Casanova starts his ISL career with a massive win, a tactical plan validated by that perfect result of a pragmatist, 1-0. Sergio Lobera sees his much hyped (by us, as well) return to India start with a damp squib. The match, then, was defined by the two moments. And one number. Zero. Today's the first time in three years that a Sergio Lobera coached side has not had a shot on target in his three years in India. Quite the opposite of what we were expecting. 2020, eh?
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