| S. Malsawmtluanga (right) congratulates Mike Okoro after the latter scored East Bengal’s matchwinner against Mohun Bagan at Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: If Mohun Bagan had talked about “pride” in pre-match promos, that surely was simply rubbish. If one judges from the way they worked out against East Bengal in their so-called “crucial” match of the Oil PSUs National Football League at the Salt lake Stadium Tuesday, “pride” and “honour” are words pretty much missing from the club’s dictionary.
It wasn’t because Mohun Bagan lost 1-2, despite having pulled abreast 1-1 at one point. It was because the way they went about the whole thing, in that sickly, unprofessional manner. It was because the way coach Subrata Bhattacharya deceives himself and his team. It is the way the officials of the club have deceived the club’s many followers of late, it is the way football has become mere commodity, packed in dull green and maroon.
The contrast was too stark to miss. It wasn’t anything flashy or anything bubbling over with talent. East Bengal’s was simple diligence and determination, and the title clearly in focus — 14 points ahead of Mohun Bagan, they are cruising.
East Bengal forged ahead in the 11th minute. The Mohun Bagan defence was the usual chaos, as Mike Okoro loped up the right. What does a wingback do when he sees the league’s leading scorer homing in' He takes defensive action. Mohun Bagan’s defence allowed this man enough leeway to move inwards and put S. Venkatesh in possession. And what did the Mohun Bagan defence do to control Venkatesh' Nothing. So Venkatesh had all the time in the world to trap, control, and tap neatly to Alvito D’Cunha, in the box.
D’Cunha shoots well, he does. And he did, too. Mohun Bagan were in the red.
Venkatesh was a number like so many, that Mohun Bagan failed to comprehend. He roamed rival territory with impunity, he snatched, he teased and set up chances. In the 12th minute he went in again, chipping one that Okoro sent just off target.
If there was one player worth the mention in the Mohun Bagan team Tuesday, it was Jose Ramirez Barreto. He was the usual snatcher-playmaker-attacker combine who receives no help from anybody (sometimes except George Ekeh).
While East Bengal pushed attacks with impunity, Barreto did his bit — or at least tried to — at his end. He missed a free-kick that missed the ‘wall’, and with Ekeh, generated the minor movements that the Bagan frontline showed.
Okay, there was this other player in the Bagan defence — Bhaichung Bhutia. What was this superstar doing. It looked like a rather extensive stroll around the green. Not the right time or place for that it seemed.
He wasn’t in the attack, he wasn’t in the game-making, he wasn’t in the snatching, he wasn’t in the feeding, he definitely wasn’t in the defence. So why was Bhaichung Bhutia in the team' That was because coach Subrata Bhattacharya did not have the spine to substitute him.
Nine minutes into the second half there was this one occasion when the East Bengal defence slipped. Ekeh was up the right and sent a low chip to the left. Barreto collected, as only he can, and sent a left-footer home for the equaliser.
That, though made little difference to the balance. East Bengal were the dominant side, and remained so.
They provided the official seal to that in the 73rd minute when Sasthi Duley let go a flier from the left top corner of the box. At the goalmouth, Okoro, who had been invited in by the Bagan defence, made no mistake.
That gave Okoro his 14th goal of the National League.
That also gave Mohun Bagan a rather pitiable face in the league. The smattering of die-hard Bagan supporters who came in Tuesday walked off quietly even before the long whistle. The East Bengal supporters, on the other hand, celebrated as if their team had won the title.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee (Sandip Nandy, 59), Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Suley Musah, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Sasthi Duley, S. Venkatesh, Chandan Das (S. Malsawmtluanga, 68), Douglas Da Silva, Alvito D’Cunha (Subhas Chakraborty, 87), Mike Okoro.
Mohun Bagan: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Dulal Biswas, Yakubu M. Rabiu, Satish Bharati, Lolendro Singh, Basudeb Mondal (Jayanta Sen, 28), Jose Ramirez Barreto, Ranjan Dey (Sunil Chettri, 77), Rennedy Singh, George Ekeh, Bhaichung Bhutia.
Referee: S. Suresh (Tamil Nadu).