11 Oct 2001, Calcutta: East Bengal today realised what it means to finish on the receiving end of a 1-1 scoreline — which helped Mohun Bagan retrieve Super Division honour.
The Salt Lake Stadium stalemate left Mohun Bagan with 34 points from 13 matches at the end of their campaign — enough to ensure their arch-rivals stayed at least three points adrift. East Bengal have 27 from 12 and a win against Tollygunge Agragami in their last match will not reduce arrears to the required extent.
It was revenge of sorts for Mohun Bagan, who forced an identical score in last year’s second-leg tie under similar circumstances, only to be denied a play-off final, following the same principle. This was their 25th triumph in the local league.
Early indications were different though, with East Bengal pressing hard for a win and stay in the hunt of a fourth successive title. They struck in the 15th minute through Omolaja Olalekan, but capsized soon as Mohun Bagan came back in waves.
Capping an excellent day with a goal seconds into the final session, Rennedy Singh emerged an unlikely hero and East Bengal were distinctly lucky to escape a spanking. East Bengal never managed another clear look at goal and must thank their stars for Mohun Bagan turning blind when they did so.
There was tension in the air, and the referee flashed yellow cards to three from each team. There was the odd blemish as well and Mohun Bagan’s Debjit Ghosh escaped punishment despite an act which could have spread trouble in the stands. He charged up at the referee for what he thought should have been a red card on Suley Musah for a foul on Rennedy.
Contrary to their coach’s match-eve apprehension that the venue was a “den of terror favouring East Bengal,” Mohun Bagan discovered terror lies actually at the heart of their defence. Right-back Dulal Biswas was easily beaten to Falguni Dutta’s through for Dipankar Roy down the right.
The medio sent in a backpass which caught the goalkeeper in a corridor of uncertainty. Before deciding whether to advance or stay put, the goalkeeper had walked out a few steps, but was still far from Omolaja who sent home a low first-time right-footer despite being hemmed in by the stoppers. It placed the Nigerian on top of the goal-scorers’ list with eight.
East Bengal tried to press home the advantage by introducing I.M. Vijayan in the 24th minute, but the striker looked woefully out of condition before making a tame exit 52 minutes later.
The goal stirred Mohun Bagan back in action and Rennedy cut loose down the left which made up for an off-colour Jose Ramirez Barreto. Rennedy’s incisive throughs and centres were not taken advantage of, but rattled the rival camp and kept Suley Musah busy at his job as right-back. The absence of this Ghanaian’s powerful bursts down right definitely handicapped East Bengal.
Their resistance broke after the changeover, when Abdulateef Seriki’s pass found Bungo Singh just outside the box on the right. Bungo picked out James Singh whose pass reached Rennedy at the goalmouth. The medio trapped the ball, negotiated a tricky bounce and jabbed it low past an advancing ‘keeper.
More chances came their way and it should have been 2-1 in favour of Mohun Bagan in the 85th inute but Barreto failed to find an empty net from the six-yard mark. Goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee was lying helpless after thwarting Bungo from Rennedy’s cross, but Barreto failed to bend properly and ballooned a right-footer over the bar.
TEAMSEAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee; Suley Musah, Jackson Egygopong, Dipak Mondal, Falguni Dutta; Amit Das (I.M. Vijayan, 24, Dipendu Biswas, 76), Tushar Rakshit (Chandan Das, 40), Dipankar Roy; Omolaja Olalekan, Bijen Singh.
MOHUN BAGAN: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Dulal Biswas, Amouri da Silva, Hussain Mustafi, Rishi Kapoor; Debjit Ghosh, James Singh, R.P. Singh (Bungo Singh, 35), Rennedy Singh; Abdulateef Seriki, Jose Ramirez Barreto.
Referee: Supriyo Bhattacharya.