17 Feb 2001, Calcutta: East Bengal leapfrogged to the top of the National Football League table. And Mohun Bagan did everything apart from scoring even after creating several chances to suffer a 0-1 defeat against their biggest rivals at Salt Lake Stadium today.
East Bengal are now on top of the table with 16 points from seven games. Mohun Bagan have 14, also from seven outings.
The all-important goal came in the 47th minute when Omolaja Olalekan scored after a blunder from Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Kalyan Chowbey left him with no other option.
It happened at the very beginning of the second half. A Dipankar Roy lob from the deep, on the way deflected first by Dipendu Biswas and then by Mohun Bagan’s M. Suresh, fell into Omolaja’s way.
The goalkeeper came out of his line to collect the ball with sufficient help from defender Amouri da Silva, who shielded it from Omolaja till he was sure that the goalkeeper had things under control. Even Chowbey seemed to be sure of himself and yet let it slip out of his grip. The Nigerian, as if embarrassed by Chowbey’s error, shyly tapped the ball in with his right foot.
Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya made a few unexpected changes in his team. Unfortunately, none of them worked. The decision to play Chowbey, with Bivas Ghosh and Rajat Ghosh Dastidar available, was baffling. This move proved to be fatal and Chowbey, who last played against Tollygunge Agragami on December 18, did not rise to the occasion.
The coach at the end of the match justified his decision. “I chose him because his outings are good,” he reasoned. It’s a different matter altogether, that Chowbey’s “outing” proved to be his and his team’s downfall.
Bagan also started with Amitava Chanda playing as right-back. Chanda, not really a regular in the team, could not get into the rhythm of the game and had to be replaced by James Singh as early as in the 24th minute. Dulal Biswas, starting in midfield, fell back. The tactical decision taken by Subrata to start with two defensive midfielders, when Bagan’s strength is their attacking midfield could not be however justified. Basudeb Mondal’s presence from the beginning may have made a difference.
The first half was a sedate affair, with both sides creating few chances. In the 17th minute, East Bengal’s Ghanaian recruit Suley Musah took the first shot of the match. A stinging right-footer had Chowbey stretch for probably the only vital save he made today.
Mohun Bagan’s defence was also not totally in control of the game. In the 33rd minute, Dipendu and Dipankar were left unmarked in front of the opponent’s citadel. But fortunately for Mohun Bagan, the East Bengal marksmen could not take advantage.
After scoring the goal, East Bengal completely lost their composure for sometime and Mohun Bagan made repeated attacks, but only till the goalmouth. In the 51st minute, two consecutive shots from well inside the penalty box, first by James and then by Dulal Biswas, were both hit at goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee.
Again in the 59th, a header from Jose Ramirez Barreto found James in front with only the goalkeeper to beat. But before James could take his shot properly, Sangram came charging and the ball went wide of the target. James should have scored from the position he was in but then the miss summarised Mohun Bagan’s inability to convert their chances today.
Barreto, who was not very effective in the first half, was in his elements in the second. However, there was never adequate support from his teammates. Mohun Bagan did put the ball into the net in the 78th minute but only after the whistle had been blown for an infringement on the goalkeeper by Barreto.
EAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee; Suley Musah, Jackson Egygpong, Dipak Mondal, Ratan Singh; Carlton Chapman (Sur Kumar Singh, 37th), Anit Ghosh (Ranjan Dey, 79th), Chandan Das; Dipankar Roy, Dipendu Biswas (Bijen Singh, 60th), Omolaja Olalekan.
MOHUN BAGAN: Kalyan Chowbey; Amitava Chanda (James Singh 24th, Amar Ganguly, 62nd), Amouri Da Silva, M. Suresh, Lolendra Singh; Dulal Biswas, R.P. Singh, Debjit Ghosh, Rennedy Singh (Basudeb Mondal, 52nd); Jose Ramirez Barreto, R.C. Prakash.
Referee: S.M. Balu.