| East Bengal players (from left) Bijen Singh, S. Malsawmtluanga and Bhaichung Bhutia converge on Suley Musah after the first goal at Salt Lake Stadium Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, July 5: Black clouds loomed all afternoon at the Salt Lake Stadium, but it was a flash of red-and-gold that lit up the evening sky as tens of thousands of East Bengal fans made their way back, contented to say the least.
They could so easily have witnessed history being scripted on a gloomy Saturday. The record 5-0 win East Bengal had notched up over their arch-rivals 28 years ago, would surely have been rewritten had the crosspiece and referee Subrata Sarkar not come in the way.
A clear penalty was not awarded midway through the second session when Bhaichung Bhutia’s deft tap struck central defender Insan Ali’s hand.
The striker, at his sublime best, couldn’t however be denied as he came up with a couple of brilliant second-half strikes to help East Bengal waltz past their arch-rivals 3-0 in the first derby of the season. Skipper Suley Musah had opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.
Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee had warned his wards about the rivals’ incisive right-side. As it turned out, maximum damage was done from that wing only. S. Malsawmtluanga, Alvito D’Cunha and Surkumar Singh, along with Bhaichung, tore apart Mohun Bagan left-back Rishi Kapoor’s resistance time and again. Mohun Bagan will have to do some repair job soon, if they are to harbour hopes of improvement.
East Bengal took about 10 minutes to gauge the strength of the opposition. They realised that Mohun Bagan wouldn’t be too stronger than a Wari AC, at least in this early part of the season.
The red-and-gold midfield took complete control and it was just a matter of time before they scored. With Mohun Bagan badly missing a quality blocker, waves of East Bengal attacks lashed the green-and-maroon shores over and over again.
In the initial stages, Bijen Singh partnered Bhaichung upfront. But in a good tactical ploy, coach Subhas Bhowmick pushed Musah to the striker’s position, to take advantage of his big build.
Marcos Pareira, Mohun Bagan’s second Brazilian recruit after Jose Ramirez Barreto, was played as a defensive midfielder, but there was hardly anything to write home about his performance. In fact, he was to blame for the first goal. As Malsawmtluanga sent an accurate cross from the right, Pareira failed to clear and it was an easy head-in for Musah.
As the East Bengal section of the one-lakh, 10-thousand strong gathering burst into celebrations, a pall of gloom descended over the Mohun Bagan section. It seemed as if they knew straightaway what a miserable afternoon lay ahead of them.
A couple of minutes later, it could have been 2-0, but Surkumar’s booming right-footer struck the crosspiece.
Mohun Bagan tried to reorganise towards the later stages of the first half, thanks to their hardworking skipper Rennedy Singh and Barreto. They tried to build up a combination down the left, may be something Mohun Bagan can look to in future.
Rennedy, in fact, took a superb curling free-kick from 30 yards out, which was tapped over by Sangram Mukherjee.
Mohun Bagan came close to an equaliser in the 50th minute as Barreto set up Pareira, whose feeble right-footer was not good enough to test Sangram.
Just when it seemed Mohun Bagan were turning things around, Bhowmick brought in Alvito in place of Bijen Singh. The speedy Goan medio was the right man to take advantage of the tired legs in the rival defence.
East Bengal made it 2-0 in the 68th minute, following a superb piece of combination play between Alvito and Bhaichung. Alvito beat a rival defender with sheer speed and sent a cross. Bhaichung rose to the occasion and took a side-volley which had enough punch to beat Mohun Bagan ’keeper Imran Khan.
Though Bhaichung missed one in the 70th minute, he made amends in the 82nd. As Mohun Bagan went all out for a reducer, a ball from the deep reached Bhaichung in a free zone. He controlled well and took a shot which came back off goalkeeper Imran’s hand and the sidepost. The opportunistic Bhaichung chased the ball and tapped it into the open net.
EAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee, Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli (Douglas da Silva, 36), Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Sashthi Duley, Suley Musah, S. Malsawmtluanga (Subhas Chakraborty, 88), Debjit Ghosh, Bijen Singh (Alvito D’Cunha, 66), Bhaichung Bhutia.
MOHUN BAGAN: Imran Khan, Manitombi Singh, Debkumar Sasmal, Insan Ali, Rishi Kapoor, Mehtab Hossain (Sunil Chhetri, 73), Hardeep Saini (Basudeb Mondal, 66), Marcos Pareira, Rennedy Singh, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Ashim Biswas.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.