30 December 2007, Calcutta: The peerless Bhaichung Bhutia provided a lifeline to Mohun Bagan’s beleaguered campaign, guiding his team to a 1-0 win against East Bengal in their ONGC I-League clash at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
The India and Mohun Bagan captain’s moment of brilliance came in the 62nd minute, when he turned a cross from Jose Ramirez Barreto into the winner with a perfect header.
The season’s third successive win over Subrata Bhattacharya’s side at the Salt Lake Stadium helped Mohun Bagan climb up provisionally to share the joint fifth place with Mahindra United, having fetched 11 points from eight matches. East Bengal, following their fourth defeat in a row in the country’s premier club competition, were lying in the danger zone with just seven points. Their title hopes are now as good as over.
If Bhaichung’s predatory instinct was the high water mark of Mohun Bagan’s display, East Bengal’s performance, or lack of it, was best captured by Mehrajuddin Wadao’s bizarre tackle on teammate Soumik Dey in the 23rd minute.
Outthought, outwitted and outclassed — East Bengal were as dull as Mehrajuddin’s brain.
For nearly an hour, the game had just meandered along, like a river at low tide, slow and murky. As many as six players — three from each side — received caution from the referee inside the first 25 minutes as the two sides threw their weight about, winning possession for anything but good football.
Missing M. Suresh in defence and Alvito D’Cunha in midfield, Bhattacharya had lined up in 4-4-1-1 formation; hoping Anupam Sarkar to provide balance to the backline, Ashim Biswas to operate in the hole, and Mehrajuddin to race back as much to close down the Bhaichung-Barreto combine as looking forward to assist the upfront man Edmilson.
The players hardly linked up and with Mehrajuddin making a mockery of his assignment, East Bengal’s submission to Mohun Bagan’s formidable midfield looked a foregone conclusion.
East Bengal still took heart from such moments of promise as Ashim’s quick attempt from a melee and Edmilson’s intelligent chip, which was negotiated by Mohun Bagan ’keeper Shilton Paul, but Carlos Roberto Pereira’s team was always dangerous on the break with the country’s most deadly attacking duo.
The Brazilian coach unleashed P.C. Lalawmpuia 10 minutes after the breather and the striker’s pace and potency down the flanks added more sting to Mohun Bagan’s attack. And the goal came soon after.
The ball reached Man of the Match Douglas da Silva following his team’s first corner and he sent it to the far end where Barreto was lurking. The Brazilian headed the ball back into the box as goalkeeper Subrata Paul came out of his line to challenge him and up went Bhaichung — unmarked and in a flash — to ruin East Bengal’s chances once and for all in the match. So disarrayed was the East Bengal defence at that time that the only player next to the scorer was his own defender, Habibur Rahman.
All the red-and-gold shirts, Anupam, Majek Bolaji and Surkumar Singh remained rooted in their respective places, perhaps bemused by the thrilling confirmation of the class that is Bhaichung.
East Bengal went on the offence thereafter, but without conviction. Edmilson missed a sitter, his attempted shot going awry. With that, their run in the I-League may have taken a wrong route as well.
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul; Habibur Rahman (Lalkamal Bhowmick, 67), Peter Odafe, N.S. Manju, N. Mohanraj; Dharamjit Singh (Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, 83), Douglas da Silva,S. Venkatesh (P.C. Lalawmpuia, 55), James Singh; Jose Ramirez Barreto, Bhaichung Bhutia.
East Bengal: Subrata Paul; Surkumar Singh, Anupam Sarkar, Majek Molaji, Soumik Dey; Jayanta Sen (Chandan Das, 85), Mehtab Hussain, Mehrajuddin Wadao (Dipankar Roy, 71), Syed Rahim Nabi; Ashim Biswas (Snehashish Chakraborty, 75), Edmilson.
Referee: K. Sankar (Tamil Nadu).
Here are the match videos :