| Bhaichung Bhutia goes past a Saunders challenger Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Perhaps a little bewildered as to how to explain a dry forecast and the following deluge in their AFC Champions League first round return leg win, Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya could not really give that smile.
“The Bhaichung Bhutia-Jose Ramirez Barreto combination is an asset, as you saw,” was how he tried to explain. “The more they play, the better they will be.” But, to be fair, he did transfer a great deal of credit to George Ekeh, who he felt was possibly the Man of the Match.
“As I had already said, we went out with the aim of playing in a double strategy, on defence and attack. We did that, and the fact was that our defensive abilities weren’t tested too much,” said the coach. But was he expecting this crumbling of Saunders FC (in the 5-1 Bagan win)' “No, not really. They had played better in Colombo, maybe because they aren’t used to playing on soggy turf...”
It was as if the Bagan coach was making excuses for the Lankan team. But he seemed happier for his defence. The induction of Satish Bharti has helped, though “that isn’t the end of all the problems. I have asked for another foreigner in defence (in place of Yakubu), let’s see.”
His problem now will be the absence, again of Bhaichung. And with national duty on the horizon, it is not sure if Bagan will be having the services of this star for the October 9 second round match versus Valencia of the Maldives. “As of now, all my calculations will have to be sans Bhaichung,” he said.
Regarding a move to induct a player or two from Saunders into Mohun Bagan, Bhattacharya made it clear. “Having seen them play in two matches, I do not think there is any player in that team who deserves a place in the Mohun Bagan team now.”
On the Valencia match, Bhattacharya said he expected to win there too. “I believe in a winning mental makeup, and I believe in this form, I will have to say we should think about winning. As of now, though, I will have to think how I will be able to handle my next Calcutta Super Division match versus Tollygunge Agragami.” Bagan will have to win to keep alive chances of a play-off, and Bhaichung will not be around to help.
Saunders coach P.D. Sirisena said: “I did not expect this big a defeat, surely. We are never used to playing on soggy ground, but I can’t really blame that, but maybe my defence gave way too quickly.”
He said his players were pretty ruffled at some of the decisions of referee Gurung Buddhi Bahadur of Nepal. “It happens when decisions are unfair,” he said, “ the players do get demoralised.” He did not single out any particular incident, but said refereeing in general had not been satisfactory. There is unlikely to be any official complaint in this, though.