| East Bengal players congratulate Malswamtluanga, who struck twice against Mohammedan Sporting at Salt Lake Stadium Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: A match reasonably high on drama, disastrously low on competition. That’s probably the best description for the Calcutta Super Division League’s so-called ‘big’ match at the Salt Lake Stadium Tuesday. In the process, East Bengal won 2-0, hands down, and made their position at the top of the league table rather comfortable with 25 points from nine matches.
Mohammedan Sporting are still in second spot after nine matches, but are five points adrift of the leaders. Mohun Bagan are still third, a further four points away.
Ironically, the two goals that saw East Bengal put paid to Mohammedan Sporting’s resurrection plans, was from S. Malswamtluanga, Mohammedan Sporting coach Mohammed Habeeb’s favourite ward at the Tata Football Academy. Malswamtluanga scored in the 13th and 16th minutes, before Dipendu Biswas destroyed a great deal of his already brittle reputation by driving into East Bengal goalkeeper Sandip Nandy a penalty shot.
That apart, there was this 11-minute period of total darkness descending, with no more than three minutes to time, throwing into disarray a 65,000-odd gathering that had just about started to melt away.
The entire stadium was in pitch darkness and it was providence that nothing really untoward happened in this chaotic situation. In all, over 15 minutes of play was lost, and while the players demanded the match be replayed (citing AFC “rules” that “allow a restart following any stoppage of 15 minutes or more,” as club secretary Sultan Ahmed put it), coach Habeeb interfered in the pushing about of referee Arup Chakraborty and put his players back into play.
As for the soccer, it was East Bengal all the way. Mohammedan Sporting’s midline and defence gave away, and the forward line was starved. East Bengal did not seem to missing either Dipankar Roy or Douglas De Silva, as claimed by coach Subhas Bhowmick Monday.
What East Bengal revelled in Tuesday was the excellent combination that has developed between Malswamtluanga on the right, Mike Okoro upfront, K. Kulothungan and, to an extent, Alvito De Cunha. This was well supplemented by the half line of Chandan das and Shankarlal Chakraborty.
The right side of East Bengal was livewire, but even the left was not too far behind. In the seventh minute a fine parrying by Mohammedan Sporting goalkeeper Prasanta Dora (some old form in view) saved an Okoro-Surya Bikash Chakraborty move, just before Dora again saved a Kulothungan shot. Those two quick East Bengal attacks basically showed how things would be in the match.
In the 13th minute Malswamtluanga, off a wrong tackle by Amandeep Singh, trapped a lose one and shot from inside the box. Dora may have got to it, but Ali Reza came in between and ball took his person before being deflected just off Dora’s reach but into the target.
Malswamtluanga was able to assign for himself the right quarter of the field rather well. He knows his limitations of height and strength and uses his speed and his understanding with Okoro and Kulothungan to advantage. In his land, he is king today.
Three minutes later Malswamtluanga got the ball off another missed tackle by Amandeep. He dragged the ball 15 yards up the right before crossing left to Okoro, with De Cunha doing a very effective dummy in between. Okoro found a challenger in an awkward position and passed back to Malswamtluanga, who promptly slotted home past an advancing Nandy.
The goal was a true picture of how well a good understanding can be used to unsettle a defence. Only, in this case, the ‘defence’ was a crumbling setup of players not too much in the game at any point. Both goals could have been prevented had the half lone been alert enough and if the Mohammedan Sporting attack had been agile, in the first place.
Twenty-five minutes into the second half, off one of those rare Mohammedan Sporting attacks of the day, Rahim Nabi was laid low in the box by East Bengal’s M. Suresh. The referee ordered a penalty. Dipendu came forward and drove a rising shot straight into the goalkeeper. It was a thoughtless shot, a sin in such a situation.
Then, as the match was nearing a drab end, the lights went out.
Habeeb later said: “It was no point arguing, really. We were losing by two goals and a two goal buffer is big enough in a tension-prone match.” He said his team did come back in the second half (they missed a couple of chances other than the penalty), but it was too late by then. Habeeb also claimed that the referee had allowed six minutes less of play time. “Those six minutes could have made a difference,” he said.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy, Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Anit Kumar Ghosh, M. Suresh, Subhashis Roy Chowdhury, Shankarlal Chakraborty, S. Malswamtluanga, Chandan Das, Alvito De Cunha, Mike Okoro, K. Kulothungan (Subhas Chakraborty, 63).
Mohammedan Sporting: Prasanta Dora, Reaj-ul Mustafa, Insan Ali, Ali Reza, Amandeep Singh (Biswanath Mondal, 34), Syed Rahim Nabi, Amit Das, Habeeb Adekunle, Christian Okolonko (Arunava Sarkar, 20), Khemtang Paite, Dipendu Biswas.
Referee: Arup Chakraborty.