| Bhaichung Bhutia being challenged by Mahindra United’s Surkumar Singh (No. 2) Friday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Defending champions Mohun Bagan escaped with a 1-1 draw, thanks to a dubious 89th-minute penalty, in their National Football League (NFL) match against Mahindra United at the Salt Lake Stadium on Friday.
The visitors, too, scored via a penalty. In the 41st minute, an R.P. Singh through found Mongba Aby Samson clear inside the box and Mohun Bagan defender Satish Bharti, out of sheer desperation, pulled him down. Referee P.K. Bose rightly pointed to the dreaded spot and Mahindra’s Brazilian striker Ednei Jose Damasio converted. He now has six goals from five matches.
The angry reaction of Mohun Bagan players looked out of place. Not so the visitors’ protests following Bose’s decision to award the home team the late penalty.
Basudeb Mondal’s flag-kick came back to him and the Mohun Bagan playmaker again sent the ball towards the box. Two Mohun Bagan players failed to connect the ball in the air and it crashed into defender Khalid Siddiqui’s abdomen. But the referee quickly awarded the penalty, turning a deaf ear to the visitors’ plea. Jose Ramirez Barreto, who played as a withdrawn forward, made no mistake in netting the equaliser.
Friday’s result pushed Mohun Bagan further behind the title race. They now have 22 points from 14 games — 11 points behind leaders East Bengal and nine adrift of second-placed Salgaocar.
The match marked Bhaichung Bhutia’s return after an injury-induced lay-off. Replacing Jayanta Sen in the second half, Bhaichung had a reasonably good outing. His sprints, hidden turn and ball-play were evident, but he didn’t appear fully fit. He has put on some extra kilos and was slow chasing balls.
Bhaichung did set up a great ball for Basudeb minutes before the equaliser, but the latter’s hastily-taken side-volley went off target. On another occasion, Bhaichung broke free on the right and was stopped by a defender in the Mahindra box. The referee did not pay heed to his appeal for a penalty.
Mohun Bagan: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Dulal Biswas, Yakubu Rabiu, Satish Bharti, Lolendra Singh; Basudeb Mondal, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Ranjan Dey, Jayanta Sen (Bhaichung Bhutia, 46); Sunil Chhetri (Amar Ganguly, 69), George Ekeh.
Mahindra United: S. Rajan; Anthony Pereira, Tapan Ghosh, Peter Siddiqui, Surkumar Singh; Debjit Ghosh, Khalid Siddiqui, James Singh (Naushad Pari, 84), R.P. Singh (Petr Strandel, 69; R.C. Prakash, 79); Mongba Aby Samson, Ednei Jose Damasio. Referee: P.K. Bose.