Captain Roy Krishna went into a rampaging mode with a second-half hat-trick as former champions ATK beat Odisha FC 3-1 to seal their play-offs spot in the Indian Super League, in Kolkata, on Saturday.
After a goal-less first-half, the star Fijian recruit virtually killed the contest in the space of 15 minutes as he struck in the 49th, 60th and 63rd minutes to take ATK past FC Goa at the top of the table on goal difference.
Odisha FC's new recruit Manuel Onwu, who is on loan from Bengaluru FC, scored the consolation goal for the visitors in the 67th minute.
With two matches left, ATK now have 33 points as they remained firm in contention for the top-spot. The top team at the league phase will book a direct berth in the AFC Champions League group stage.
The two-time former champions also virtually confirmed a last-four spot in the ISL for a fourth time from six seasons.
Roy Krishna, meanwhile, also jumped to the top of the goals' tally with 13 to his name, one more than Chennaiyin FC's Nerijus Valskis who has 12 goals from 14 matches.
For the Bhubaneswar-based Odisha FC, this was their seventh defeat as they have 21 points from 16 matches and their qualifying hopes are over.
Playing their penultimate home match of the season, ATK began the second half in a rousing fashion when Roy Krishna struck with a first-time finish from a Hernandez corner.
But his second goal was about quality, control and finesse as the Fijian took a solitary run from the left flank, first beating Carlos Delgado before slamming past a hapless Odisha custodian Francisco Dorronsoro.
Switching to right flank, Roy Krishna was set up by an Armando Sosa Pena long ball as he brought up his hat-trick before Odisha could settle down in less than three minute.
At half-time, however, it was a different story altogether as the Josep Gombau-coached side managed to hold on to a clean slate, despite some spirited runs down both the flanks by Roy Krishna and Co.
Odisha defenders remained on the edge in the first-half with ATK making some fine interceptions right from the start.
The home team's first real chance came in the seventh minute when Javier Hernandez's centre from the left flank found the captain Roy Krishna.
The Fijian turned around to set it up for Prabir Das who surged into the box with a low cross to Edu Garcia but the ball was cleared in time for a corner.
In the 26th minute, ATK once again had a chance with Hernandez from the right but the defenders managed to put the ball away.
ATK take on Chennaiyin FC in their last home match on February 16 before concluding their league stage at Bengaluru FC six days later.
Pritam Singh's hat-trick gives Neroca huge Imphal derby win against TRAU
Pritam Singh struck a hat-trick to help Neroca FC outplay city rivals TRAU FC 5-0 in the reverse leg of the Imphal derby in the I-League in Imphal.
Neroca thus took revenge of their first leg defeat with a big win in front of 34,971 spectators at the floodlit Khuman Lampak Stadium.
The win re-energised Neroca's I-League campaign, as they now have 11 points from as many matches to be placed eighth on the table.
The first half of the match saw a lot of the play in the mid-field. The key moment of the half came in the 17th minute when Neroca's Ousmane Diawara received a beautifully lofted through-ball from the midfield and TRAU's Sandeep Singh handled the ball to stop him from being through on goal.
The handball cost the team as referee Pratik Mondal immediately took out the red card.
Down to 10 men with more than 70 minutes to play, the game was looking like tilting completely towards Neroca FC. Philip Tettey, after the sending off, took the free-kick from outside the box but it was straight at the TRAU keeper.
The remainder of the half saw Neroca FC not being able to make the most of the chances they had generated with two clear ones for Tettey.
Trau's defence was not ready to pave an easy way for the home team and the half ended with both the teams level at 0-0.
The second half resumed with Neroca looking like a completely different team. They soon put the foot on the pedal. The first goal came from none other than Philip Tettey in the 50th minute, who got a square ball at the edge of the TRAU box by Imran Khan.
Tettey twisted his body and unleashed a thunderous strike which rocketed into the top right corner of the net.
Tettey's goal opened the floodgates and what followed was a flurry of goals. It was now Jiteshwor Singh with the through ball and Imran Khan, who was the provider in the last goal, became the scorer as he completed a clinical move to hand Neroca a 2-0 lead with 58 minutes on the clock.
It was then Pritam Singh for Neroca who got into the act. It was Khan's ball that bisected the defence and led to Pritam being one-on-one with the TRAU keeper. Pritam dribbled past Mithun Samanta in the goal and completed a calm finish in the 60th minute.
For his second in the 66th minute, Pritam got the ball from Imran Khan, beat Tonmoy Ghosh for pace and his shot easily found the back of the net.
Pritam, having scored his brace, was looking set for a hat-trick when Singam Subash Singh cut inside and gave a perfect cross to him. It was an open goal but the forward fluffed his lines.
In the first minute of added time though, Tettey was again through on the goal and had a clear shot but his attempt was stopped by Samanta. The rebound fell to Pritam, who made no mistake this time and netted the ball with a powerful shot and thus completing his first hat-trick in the I-League and the Imphal derby.