18.7.04, Calcutta: Mohun Bagan technical director Subrata Bhattacharya’s strategy of strengthening the defence and his wards’ fine execution could just have fetched them full points. Lady Luck, though, decided otherwise, and they had to be content with just one point, after a 1-1 draw with East Bengal in the season’s first derby at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Mohun Bagan went into the lead through Sunil Chhetri in the 26th minute. The equaliser came in the 71st minute through a Douglas da Silva free-kick.
Things were going swimmingly for Bagan, but in the 58th minute coach Bhattacharya was forced to withdraw the in-form Noel Wilson who was limping after a Shylo Malsawmtluanga tackle. Abhay Kumar came in for Wilson, but the latter could not match the sturdy action of Wilson. That can be considered the turning point of the match. East Bengal were all over soon after.
East Bengal, on the other hand, never looked in control. There were flashes of individual brilliance mostly from Alvito D’Cunha, and later also by Douglas da Silva. And Bhaichung Bhutia wasn’t his glamorous self.
In the early part of the first half the red-gold shirts launched few attacks up the middle but failed to penetrate, mostly because of Eduardo Coelho and Palash Karmakar. The duo thwarted moves with ease.
When East Bengal tried to direct the game up the right wing, via Syed Rahim Nabi, the player came up against a tough proposition in Kapoor. Nabi wasn’t able to find his way past that hurdle, and it was difficult to understand why East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick persisted with Nabi till the end.
To add to Bhowmick’s woes was Louis Aniweta. He is a somewhat average defender in aerial tussles, but below average on the ground. More often than not it was Dipak Mondal and Selwyn Fernandez who saved the national champions from the blushes.
By the 15th minute Mohun Bagan had the match in their backyard. This culminated in a brilliant goal in the 25th minute. Ashim Biswas, coming up the left, passed on to an advancing Sunil Chhetri on the right, inside the box. Sunil took the ball in his stride, and, on the run, dodged Fernandez and Aniweta with a body feint. While he changed path, he also switched the ball from his left to the right foot. In one sweeping motion, he had let go a powerful grounder that found the target.
Watching Syed Hussain was another drudgery. Bhowmick did right to replace him with Shylo Malsawmtluanga inside the first half. After Malsawmtluanga’s arrival the East Bengal midfield looked somewhat more decent. Sashti Duley, as usual, switched to the left.
After the breather, Bhowmick, realised the need for the big push, and took a gamble. He replaced Chandan Das with Douglas, despite the latter clearly being far from match-fit. The Brazilian had landed in the city only Saturday afternoon, and surely needed more time to adapt. Yet, he tried his bit to supply balls for Bhaichung and to Alvito D’ Cunha. Helped ably by Malsawmtluanga, East Bengal started launching attacks one after the other. Several times they reached the goalmouth but failed to come up with the equaliser.
In the meantime, Wilson’s withdrawal in the 58th minute helped East Bengal to get hold of the midfield and swing the game in their favour. But they had to wait till the 71st minute to restore parity.
Malsawmtluanga was tripped just outside the box and East Bengal got a free-kick. Douglas’ left footer swerved in to find the net, after a soft deflection off a Mohun Bagan defender.
He directed all his ire at the referee. “I’m not at all satisfied with the referee. The referee is solely responsible for the draw,” Subrata added, not willing to go into details. “Why did the IFA suddenly decide on a city referee to officiate the game despite all the talk about the Goan presence,” Subrata asked.
Presumably both Chhetri and Douglas were happy after scoring their maiden goals in a derby clash.
“I had never been on the first XI in any derby clash before. So it gives me lot of pleasure to have scored the lone goal in my first appearance for my team today,” Chhetri said.
Douglas, who arrived on Saturday, said: “It has always been my dream to score against Mohun Bagan and I achieved it today,” Douglas said. According to the Brazilian, East Bengal have lot of scope for improvement.
For Bhutia, Sunday’s performance will act as a catalyst before their trip to Leicester city. “I am quite satisfied with the way we have played but we need to improve our passing and fitness in course of time,” Bhaichung said.
There remains many grey areas to be taken care of. Bhowmick will have to take special care of his defence, while Bhattacharya must look for a striker. Both sides are on seven points after three outings.
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora, Dulal Biswas, Mehrazuddin Wadao, Palash Karmakar, Eduardo Coelho, Rishi Kapoor, Tomba Singh (Manas Das 69), Noel Wilson (Abhay Kumar 58), Dharamjit Singh, Ashim Biswas, Sunil Chhetri (Jerry Zirsanga 74).
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Syed Hussain (Shylo Malsawmtluanga 35), Selwyn Fernandez, Louis Aniweta, Dipak Mondal, Sashti Duley, Syed Rahim Nabi, Climax Lawrence (Dipankar Roy 64), Alvito D’Cunha, Chandan Das (Douglas da Silva 46), Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.