Calcutta, July 5: Black clouds loomed all afternoon at the Salt Lake Stadium, but it was a flash of red-and-gold that lit up the evening sky as tens of thousands of East Bengal fans made their way back, contented to say the least. There was 1.10 lakh spectators for the game.
They could so easily have witnessed history being scripted on a gloomy Saturday. The record 5-0 win East Bengal had notched up over their arch-rivals 28 years ago, would surely have been rewritten had the crosspiece and referee Subrata Sarkar not come in the way.
A clear penalty was not awarded midway through the second session when Bhaichung Bhutia’s deft tap struck central defender Insan Ali’s hand.
The striker, at his sublime best, couldn’t however be denied as he came up with a couple of brilliant second-half strikes to help East Bengal waltz past their arch-rivals 3-0 in the first derby of the season. Skipper Suley Musah had opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee had warned his wards about the rivals’ incisive right-side. As it turned out, maximum damage was done from that wing only. S. Malsawmtluanga, Alvito D’Cunha and Surkumar Singh, along with Bhaichung, tore apart Mohun Bagan left-back Rishi Kapoor’s resistance time and again. Mohun Bagan will have to do some repair job soon, if they are to harbour hopes of improvement.
East Bengal took about 10 minutes to gauge the strength of the opposition. They realised that Mohun Bagan wouldn’t be too stronger than a Wari AC, at least in this early part of the season.
The red-and-gold midfield took complete control and it was just a matter of time before they scored. With Mohun Bagan badly missing a quality blocker, waves of East Bengal attacks lashed the green-and-maroon shores over and over again.
In the initial stages, Bijen Singh partnered Bhaichung upfront. But in a good tactical ploy, coach Subhas Bhowmick pushed Musah to the striker’s position, to take advantage of his big build.
Marcos Pareira, Mohun Bagan’s second Brazilian recruit after Jose Ramirez Barreto, was played as a defensive midfielder, but there was hardly anything to write home about his performance. In fact, he was to blame for the first goal. As Malsawmtluanga sent an accurate cross from the right, Pareira failed to clear and it was an easy head-in for Musah.
As the East Bengal section of the one-lakh, 10-thousand strong gathering burst into celebrations, a pall of gloom descended over the Mohun Bagan section. It seemed as if they knew straightaway what a miserable afternoon lay ahead of them.
A couple of minutes later, it could have been 2-0, but Surkumar’s booming right-footer struck the crosspiece.
Mohun Bagan tried to reorganise towards the later stages of the first half, thanks to their hardworking skipper Rennedy Singh and Barreto. They tried to build up a combination down the left, may be something Mohun Bagan can look to in future.
Rennedy, in fact, took a superb curling free-kick from 30 yards out, which was tapped over by Sangram Mukherjee.
Mohun Bagan came close to an equaliser in the 50th minute as Barreto set up Pareira, whose feeble right-footer was not good enough to test Sangram.
Just when it seemed Mohun Bagan were turning things around, Bhowmick brought in Alvito in place of Bijen Singh. The speedy Goan medio was the right man to take advantage of the tired legs in the rival defence.
East Bengal made it 2-0 in the 68th minute, following a superb piece of combination play between Alvito and Bhaichung. Alvito beat a rival defender with sheer speed and sent a cross. Bhaichung rose to the occasion and took a side-volley which had enough punch to beat Mohun Bagan ’keeper Imran Khan.
Though Bhaichung missed one in the 70th minute, he made amends in the 82nd. As Mohun Bagan went all out for a reducer, a ball from the deep reached Bhaichung in a free zone. He controlled well and took a shot which came back off goalkeeper Imran’s hand and the sidepost. The opportunistic Bhaichung chased the ball and tapped it into the open net.
Bhaichung Bhutia scored in a derby for the first time Saturday since his hattrick against Mohun Bagan in 1997 in the Federation Cup semi-final. However, he felt that the brace he scored today could so easily have been for Bagan.
“I had a horrible last season, continuously struggling with injuries. But I wanted to make it up this season for Mohun Bagan,” the striker said.
He informed that he had called up Mohun Bagan secretary Anjan Mitra and president Swapan Sadhan Bose a number of times before taking the final decision to switch to East Bengal. “But they were not even bothered to answer my calls. That made me feel that I’m totally unwanted,” Bhutia added. “Now I’m close to my best, and everyone knows what I can do when I’m playing well,” he said.
He also gave a lot of credit to their physio Kevin Jackson for the success. “He has worked very hard with us. The pre-season training has been fabulous and we’re reaping the harvest now,” he said.
Going out of his way, Subhas Bhowmick made a fervent appeal to his boys during Saturday’s team meeting that anything less than a 2-0 win would amount to “disappointment”, if not defeat, for him.
More than revealing the unknown side of the East Bengal coach, this, perhaps, put his plans into perspective, ahead of the much bigger and serious challenges in the ASEAN Club Championship.
“I knew that any setback against Mohun Bagan could have jeopardised my plans for the tournament. In that case, I might have been forced to rework my blueprint in Indonesia. Today’s result, at least, gave me and my team confidence that we are moving in the right direction and ready to take on the champion teams from South East Asia,” Bhowmick maintained.
He highlighted East Bengal’s first goal from captain Suley Musah as a perfect culmination of his plans. “I started Musah in the midfield as a blocker, deliberately giving the rivals an impression that he would be hovering on the defensive zone. But he was soon made into a second striker and the move paid off immediately,” the coach pointed out.
No doubt, then, that Subhas’ opposite in Mohun Bagan was ruing lack of preparation as the key cause for the disaster in a post-match discussion. “The match was played between a well-groomed, well-prepared team and another, who didn’t have enough time to get its act together,” Aloke Mukherjee said.
“Give us time to settle down. Both (Jose Ramirez) Barreto and Marcos (Perreira) joined the team the other day. They also need time to get acclimatised to a new outfit. With the current set-up of my team, I was hoping for a miracle against East Bengal. But it didn’t take place today.”
“I’m confident about my team. Next time we face East Bengal, at least this result will not be repeated,” he added.
Barreto echoed his coach, saying “the team required more preparation for the match”.
Captain Rennedy Singh, however, made it a point that had his 17-minute strike not been ruled out as a foul, the result might have been different. Musah’s opener came six minutes later.
“I went to the referee and asked him why he didn’t rule the goal in our favour. I was told I committed a foul on a defender. Thereafter, I decided not to argue with him,” Rennedy remarked.
EAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee, Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli (Douglas da Silva, 36), Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Sashthi Duley, Suley Musah, S. Malsawmtluanga (Subhas Chakraborty, 88), Debjit Ghosh, Bijen Singh (Alvito D’Cunha, 66), Bhaichung Bhutia.
MOHUN BAGAN: Imran Khan, Manitombi Singh, Debkumar Sasmal, Insan Ali, Rishi Kapoor, Mehtab Hossain (Sunil Chhetri, 73), Hardeep Saini (Basudeb Mondal, 66), Marcos Pareira, Rennedy Singh, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Ashim Biswas.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.