3.9.05, Calcutta: This is a lost-and-found story. This is a story of turnaround. This is the story of a team, who until recently, was ailing in its sick-bed and now finds itself in the pink of health, fit and running.
And this is also the story of a man who, for the umpteenth time in his career, has used his magic wand to make that turnaround possible.
When Amal Dutta took over, Mohun Bagan were a team without belief, a loosely-assembled side of half-fit players with no goal in sight. Relegation-threatened, the team and its supporters had nowhere to hide.
Dutta has shown that what happened on August 18 was no fluke. Rather it was the culmination of a process, which is nearing fulfilment.
The green-and-maroons have now vanquished their arch-rivals in successive matches and it is now up to the statisticians to find out when was the last time this happened. Not for donkey’s years, it seems.
Owing to a Gley Yao Rodrigue penalty, Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal by a solitary goal in a (second leg) Calcutta Football League Premier Division match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
Right from the kick-off till the end of the match, Dutta’s side took control of the midfield and stuck to their job. It must be said that they failed to open the goalmouth even once, but the ease with which Mohun Bagan dominated the attacking third was exemplary.
They were the more vibrant side. With Mehrajuddin Wadao (adjudged Man-of-the-Match) taking a lot of load and soaking up the pressure, to Tomba Singh (Player of the Match), who had a very good match as well, Bagan, whenever they went on the attack, had a purpose.
Which brings us to the Rodrigue factor. The Togolese had an ordinary game today. But his impact so far had been such that besides setting Habibur Rahman and Covan Lawrence on him, Bhowmick, it seems, had restricted his most potent weapon, Syed Rahim Nabi, to a mere right winger’s role.
Nabi hardly overlapped, as a result East Bengal failed to use the wings and their attacks, infrequent and disorganised, were easily stubbed out by the Bagan backline.
The red-and-golds looked a frustrated lot and were frequently without ideas. Three substitutions within the first 60 minutes (the first one as early as the 28th minute when Jayanta Sen was replaced by Jatin Bisht), and one feels even the coach lacked a plan.
East Bengal did create a chance in the first-half though. Shylo Malsawmtluanga had only Subrata Pal ahead of him when in the 24th minute, I.M. Vijayan set up a centre off the left wing in the rival box. The East Bengal captain, unbelievably, headed in the opposite direction, surprising even the rival goalkeeper!
In between, the death knell for Bhowmick’s side was sounded. Lady Luck smiled on Bagan in the 41st minute as Tomba Singh nodded in a perfectly innocuous ball in the rival box. Debabrata Roy had very little time to react and before he knew it, his hands had touched the ball and the referee had pointed at the dreaded spot.
Rodrigue’s shot proved two things. One, that he has a very cool head on his shoulders, and two, he knows his job.
His shot went along the carpet and entered through the second post, leaving no chance for Rajat Ghosh Dastidar.
When the second essay started, never did East Bengal show any real intent in getting the equaliser.
Barring a brilliant solo move by Malsawmtluanga in the 48th minute when he trapped the ball upfront and in a whisker turned to shoot it in the right-hand corner. Pal flew and fisted it above the post, a save which drew loud gasps from the crowd.
As the minutes wore on, the red-and-golds grew desperate and their attacks, few and far between, lacked cohesion.
The body language showed it all as even in the last 10 minutes, when teams who are lagging behind show an extra effort, East Bengal failed to stitch even a single move.
Bhaichung Bhutia made a surprise visit to the press box during the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match with wife Madhuri and for all of 90 minutes, was attention personified.
Terming his three-month stint with Malaysian team MK Land “fruitful”, Bhaichung said, “It was necessary for me from a professional point of view.
“I am much fitter now and raring to go.”
Bhaichung, however, refused to divulge whether he will don a red-and-gold or a green-and-maroon shirt.
The force is now with Mohun Bagan.
Mohun Bagan: Subrata Pal; Sanjay Parte, Mehrajuddin Wadao, Eduardo Coelho, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Tomba Singh, Mehtab Hussain, Noel Wilson, Dharamjit Singh, A.S. Firoz, Gley, Yao Rodrigue.
East Bengal: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Covan Lawrence, Habibur Mondal, Syed Rahim Nabi, M. Suresh, Debabrata Roy (R.C. Prakash 60), Jayanta Sen (Jatin Bisht 28), Debjit Ghosh, Bernard Pires (Chandan Das 46), Shylo Malsawmtluanga, I.M. Vijayan.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.