After three consecutive draws in their first three games of the season, defending champions Bengaluru FC were struggling to be the same threat that saw them take the Indian Super League (ISL) by storm in the previous two seasons.
On Wednesday, Bengaluru did just enough to beat Odisha FC and register their third win of the season. With 13 points after seven matches, the Blues are atop the table and it is slowly beginning to look like a comeback of sorts for Carles Cuadrat and co. And they have their defence to thank for it.
For a team that had become known for their incredible strikeforce, that consistently featured Miku, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh, Bengaluru's woes in front of goal since the Venezuelan striker's departure has been damning. Chhetri, as expected, has had to take up the mantle with new signing Manuel Onwu struggling with form and fitness, and although the India international has scored three goals, there has been a lack of threat inside the box.
Even as the frontline continues to be inefficient, the defence has really stood up for Bengaluru in their last few games. They have conceded just two goals in seven matches, which is the league's best tally and three goals fewer than the next best defence.
Against Odisha, Bengaluru registered their fifth clean sheet of the season. Juanan has been the mainstay in central defence this season and he once again delivered a top-notch performance against Josep Gombau's men. Not only was he winning duels left, right and centre, but the Spanish defender also showcased his striker's instinct when he ghosted into the box to latch onto Erik Paartalu's flick and sneaked a finish past Arshdeep Singh to score Bengaluru's match-winner.
Complimenting the good work by the four-man backline was Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who pulled off a few fantastic saves to deny Odisha a way back into the game. The hosts were particularly threatening in the early stages of the second half but Gurpreet's post had an imaginary red light on top. His most impressive output was when he pulled off a double save to deny Marcos Tebar and Diagne from an Odisha corner in the 55th minute. India's No.1 was quick to get down in time to stop Tebar's header and then brave to put his body on the line as Nandhakumar tried to turn in the ball after Diagne hit the rebound on to the post.
There was more good work as the second-half wore on but Odisha struggled to find a way past the Bengaluru defence and on the few occasions they did, the goalkeeper was stubborn.