Things looked gloomy for high-flying ATK after the first leg play-offs after they went down 1-0 to Bengaluru FC away from home and the man who was primarily at fault for ATK’s defeat was goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya.
The Bengali custodian was also partly responsible for the club not finishing at the top of the table in the league stage, forgoing an AFC Champions League slot in the process. Until the 17th round, ATK were fighting toe-to-toe with FC Goa but a defeat against Chennaiyin FC at home ended their dreams.
Against Chennaiyin, it was Arindam who conceded two silly goals, especially the second one where he failed to judge the flight of Rafael Crivellaro’s corner which led to Andre Schembri scoring a header into an open net. Chennaiyin took a commanding lead in the first half and eventually won the game.
In the first leg of the play-offs, Bengaluru who offered nothing in attack were gifted a goal, thanks to Bhattacharya’s howler in the 30th minute. The experienced goalkeeper failed to grip the ball from Juanan's tame effort and Deshorn Brown converted the loose ball.
But the Bengal-born custodian redeemed himself in the second leg against Bengaluru with a stellar performance. He pulled off a swashbuckling save in the second half to stop Kervaughn Frater from sealing the tie for Bengaluru. The aggregate scoreline was 2-2 at that time and a goal for the Blues would have sealed the fate of the match in their favour but Bhattacharya’s bravado completely changed the course of the match. He also pulled a brilliant reflex save in injury time to keep out John Johnson's inadvertent header that seemed destined to be an own goal.
After the first leg, the 30-year-old was the first to admit that his performances were far from satisfactory in the first leg. He took it upon as a personal challenge to ensure lapses in concentration did not scupper his team's challenge.
In the final, the ATK goalkeeper was near unbeatable in front of the goal and pulled off some quality saves to keep Nerijus Valskis and Andre Schembri out. It was Arindam Bhattacharya’s heroics in both halves which never really allowed Chennaiyin to stage a comeback in the match.
Arindam, who is known more as a penalty expert rather than an all-round goalkeeper, answered his critics with an all-round performance in the two most crucial matches of the season to win his first ISL title.
Antonio Habas' trust in the experienced goalkeeper paid off in the perfect manner with the custodian stepping up when it mattered the most.