A first-time, left-footed finish passed low and hard into the far corner of the goal. Same kind of area on the left inside the box, a touch to control, another to steady himself and a whipped right-footed finish low and through the keeper. Ghosting in off-the-ball on the opposite side of the box and latching onto a spill from the keeper to tap the ball in. At the end, it was that simple. Smart finishing, smarter movement, and Bipin Singh had this ISL season's first hat trick, 105 games in.
That neat little bit of trivia was the proverbial cherry on the top of a sensational Mumbai City FC win that has set up a tasty late Sunday kick-off vs ATK Mohun Bagan. If Mumbai beat them, they finish top. Any other result, Bagan take the top spot.
Mumbai have laid down a marker with this win.
Now, there is the obvious disclaimer that this 6-1 evisceration came against Odisha FC -- the Odisha of nine points in 19 games and a goal difference of -20. And that despite handing them an early advantage (a lazy Ahmed Jahouh foul to give away a penalty, which Diego Mauricio scored), Mumbai never really looked like they were going to do anything but run up a tennis score.
But they needed this. After a run of results that had seen them swap out a five-point lead at the top to Bagan for trailing them by five points, they were looking flat. The run had included a beating-down at the hands of a down-and-out Bengaluru FC, a flat loss to NorthEast United FC and another to Jamshedpur FC in which they had been comprehensively outplayed. Sergio Lobera had called the last one their worst performance of the season.
So, Odisha or not, this win came as a balm. For it was the kind of performance that reminded everyone -- inside and out -- what a Lobera team is truly capable of.
From the 13th minute onwards, when Bartholomew Ogbeche equalised with a stunning diving header at the near post, Mumbai did what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it. The goals were all quality -- Bipin's hat trick was accompanied by two superb Ogbeche headers (the other a leaping thump), and a stunning smash from Cy Goddard. But more than the scoreline, it was the thoroughness of the victory that stood out.
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If anything, Mumbai should have scored more than six. They out-passed Odisha 796 to 174, out-possessed them 82% to 18% and out-shot them 24 to 5 (with 12 and 1 hitting the target, respectively). Jahouh even managed to miss a penalty in between all that.
A team that seemed to have forgotten how to string three passes together appear now to have regained the swagger of the early phases of the season. The swagger that had most observers crooning, and anointing them champions. Ahead of the most crucial match of the season, it was exactly what the doctor had prescribed. Goals, control, peace of mind.
And now onto Sunday. Antonio Habas and the ATK Mohun Bagan machine have been warned. Lobera and his Mumbai City galacticos aren't going to surrender that top spot (and the AFC Champions League trappings that come with it) without a fight now that they are back to their best. It's going to be some match, eh?