2 Sept 2000, Calcutta: The traditional paper torches lit up the early evening sky as a 1-1 stalemate extinguished Mohun Bagan’s hopes of stopping East Bengal from posting a hattrick of Super Division League triumphs.
Mohun Bagan’s Jose Ramirez Barreto neutralised Sur Kumar Singh’s 24th-minute strike in the 54th but the result kept East Bengal five points ahead of their arch rivals. With a three-point gap between the top-two being enough to do away with a championship play-off final, East Bengal (35 points) emerged champions for the 27th time.
Needing nothing short of a win to keep alive chances of bagging their 25th title, Mohun Bagan did show the urgency in the early stages. Choosing to go in without a defensive midfielder, Mohun Bagan succeeded in taking early control of that zone and started operating at a brisk pace.
They even put one into the goal in the third minute but that R.C. Praksh effort, off a Basudeb Mondal corner, was disallowed because of an infringement. The early charge rattled East Bengal and the credit for the fact that they did stage a comeback must go to Chandan Das.
Spotting the huge open spaces in the rival-half caused by their movement upwards, Chandan started probing the empty pockets with some accurate long passes, most of which were essayed from well inside his own half. He also made sure that both flanks remained active and played a key role in the goal.
Chandan’s 30-yard freekick found Carlton Chapman down the left, who, on entering the box floated one towards the far post. Right-back Sur Kumar stole in unnoticed and unchallenged, his header keeping the custodian rooted to the spot. The aerial crosses were accurate and the header well-placed but the liberty Sur Kumar enjoyed well inside the rival box was inexplicable.
Chandan continued essaying the long-rangers and most of them found either Dipendu Biswas or Sheikh Sanjib who seemed to lack the last and decisive touch. At least three of them split open the rival defence and should have been converted. Chandan also tried a few long-rangers one of which had to be tipped over by a diving ’keeper.
The goal took the sting out of Mohun Bagan and their coach must also take a fair share of the blame for a substitution that defied logic. Replacing Satyajit Chatterjee with Joao Dos Santos right after the goal, Subrata Bhattacharya took off a principal source of all the able passes. The veteran was looking charged up and a few good prompts for Barreto had class written all over.
This move ensured that Mohun Bagan lost a creative mind in the midfield and Santos, not for the first time, looked puzzled and ran around aimlessly, unsure of his role. Things turned better in the second half when he was pushed forward with Barreto falling back a bit. But the damage had already been done once Satyajit was taken off and Mohun Bagan lost control soon after.
Mohun Bagan started the second half with renewed vigour and equalised soon after. Barreto once again played the lead as he released Rennedy down the left with a deft flick of the boot and the India medio sent in a deep centre which floated accross the goalmouth, tempting the goalkeeper to have a go at it.
The ’keeper missed the flight as Prakash headed it back for Barreto who nodded in his eighth goal of the League. It put him jointly on top of the list alongside Prakash.
Barring the goal, the Brazilian was not at his best and this significantly affected their chances. The disorganised display after the goal bore testimony to that as they failed to take advantage of a few crucial errors committed by the normally reliable Jackson Egygpong.
Being showered with praise after the completion of the Super Division Derby, the East Bengal coach said he wants to savour the triumph for some time before planning for the future. His Mohun Bagan counterpart, however, blamed the referee for today’s 1-1 draw.
The result was enough for Syed Nayeemuddin’s men to seal the title and the coach praised the club officials for giving him a free hand. “My association with East Bengal brings back special memories as I got the Arjuna and Dronacharya Awards while being with this club,” he said.
Nayeem, not known for identifying individuals for special praise, said Sur Kumar Singh, Chandan Das, Sangram Mukherjee and Dipak Mondal were the finds of the season.
The East Bengal crowd’s hero of the day, scorer Sur Kumar, said he was enjoying his new role as right-back though a more central role is what he is more used to.
“Yeah, overlapping is new to me, I learnt the nuances from our coah here,” said the 20-year-old from Khurkhul, a place 16 kms away from Manipur.
This is his first season with a club after having graduated from the Tata Football Academy this year.
The Mohun Bagan coach said his team was denied at least three penalties and blamed the referee for not being able to force a win. He also said that R.C. Prakash’s third-minute goal, disallowed for a foul, was proper.
“Such referees should be suspended. His decisions affected our boys’ confidence and that is the reason why we couldn’t win,” said Subrata Bhattacharya.
Subrata even said that East Bengal will not be able to do well in matches outside Calcutta as they won’t be getting such “assistance” from the officials.
About the game, he defended his move of replacing Satyajit Chatterjee with Joao Dos Santos, saying he needed more men up front. He also stood by his defenders who stood mere spectators when East Bengal scored.
“They were undone by the number of wrong verdicts. I don’t blame them. Also, it would have been a different story had our third-minute goal been upheld,” Bhattacharya said.
According to club officials, Mohun Bagan may lodge a formal protest against the referee. They added that Mohun Bagan may not take part in the upcoming IFA Shield if their matches are not conducted by outstation officials.
“This is not regarding our matches against East Bengal but applies to other games as well,” said an official.
TEAMSEAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee; Sur Kumar Singh, Dipak Mondal, Jackson Egygpong, Ratan Singh; Carlton Chapman (Dipankar Roy, 68), Ayoyemi Isiaka, Anit Ghosh (Tushar Rakshit, 58), Chandan Das; Dipendu Biswas, Sheikh Sanjib (Trijit Das, 29).
MOHUN BAGAN: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Dulal Biswas, Debjit Ghosh, M. Suresh, Lolendro Singh; Basudeb Mondal (Hussain Mustafi, 81), R.P. Singh, Satyajit Chatterjee (Joao Dos Santos, 26), Rennedy Singh; R.C. Prakash, Jose Ramirez Barreto.
Referee: Udayan Haldar.