The Indian Super League (ISL) playoff race is down to one available spot after ATK Mohun Bagan came from behind to register a 2-1 win against Kerala Blasters at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Saturday. ATKMB's win lifted them to third, dropped the Blasters to fifth, and confirmed their playoff qualification this season. The hosts trailed after Dimitrios Diamantakos opened the scoring but a Carl McHugh brace on either side of a Blasters sending off completed the turnaround.
The game got off to an energetic start with ATKMB welcoming Ashique Kuruniyan and Hugo Boumous back into the starting lineup. Inside the first five minutes, both players stated their intent by registering the first two attempts on goal for the hosts.
Kerala Blasters were without the suspended Adrian Luna and added an additional striker in Apostolos Giannou to the starting lineup alongside Diamantakos. The duo had opportunities of their own, Diamantakos rippling the outside of the net in the opening couple of minutes before Giannou's glancing header from Bryce Miranda's freekick was saved comfortably by Vishal Kaith.
In the 16th minute, Giannou was picked out in the box with a through ball from Ivan Kaliuzhnyi. The striker played a one-touch pass into the path of Diamantakos, who fired it into the top-left corner. The lead lasted seven minutes as Dimitri Petratos' menacing freekick from the left flank was tapped in by McHugh from close range.
Seven minutes into the second half, loose defending from Nishu Kumar allowed Petratos to whip a promising cross into the box. Manvir Singh rose and headed the cross onto the upright before it was cleared to safety. Five minutes later, Gill spilled a cross and almost allowed Petratos to score before Victor Mongil cleared it to safety.
Minutes past the hour-mark, in an effort to thwart an ATKMB counter-attack, Rahul KP dove in on Ashique. Play went on but the official returned to the incident and brandished a second yellow for Rahul as the Blasters were reduced to ten men.
In the 71st minute, the game turned on its head. Asish Rai whipped the ball in from the right flank as Manvir cushioned it into the path of McHugh, who powered in his second of the game with the outside of his boot. The tempo dropped after ATKMB took the lead, and no substantial attacks were forthcoming from the Blasters.
With playoff qualification confirmed, ATKMB will head into the Kolkata derby with confidence on February 25. Kerala Blasters will conclude the ISL's league stage at home against Hyderabad FC on February 26.