| Bhaichung Bhutia beats ITI ’keeper Gumpe Rime to score Mohun Bagan’s equaliser, making it 3-3 at Salt Lake Stadium Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: This afternoon, the Salt Lake Stadium saw what the football fraternity has been watching over the past few days — a chaotic Mohun Bagan.
With Mohun Bagan’s chances of defending the National Football League having evaporated long time ago, the club seems to have plunged into disorder, which even culminated in the unceremonious sacking of coach Subrata Bhattacharya. Officials — pro and against the establishment — have since been engaged in kicking up a storm in a tea cup over how democratic the most successful coach’s ouster had been in an otherwise “autocratic” set-up, things start looking gloomier day by day.
Mohun Bagan’s NFL match — inconsequential, though, it was — against ITI of Bangalore at Salt Lake Stadium Wednesday, reflected the same degree of chaotic daze. The end result was therefore predictable. Not only did Mohun Bagan fail to beat an already relegated side, but rallied from two-goal deficit to manage a 3-3 draw.
Bhaichung Bhutia gave Mohun Bagan the lead when the match was just two-minute old. But in a roller-coaster second-half, ITI levelled the score through Najeeb Adu. Then within a span of five minutes, the visitors were 3-1 up, thanks to strikes from Tajinder Singh and Najeeb. With ten minutes to go, it was left to Bhaichung to save his team from further ignominy.
It was not the green and maroon side fans would generally have identified themselves with. Much to their chagrin, this team seems to have lost purpose and they are now playing, as if, just to finish the League. The empty Salt Lake Stadium also conveys the message that this team now does not have anything to offer for its true-blues.
When Rennedy Singh fed Bhaichung near the rivals’ half-line, very few had given it a proper notice. The agile striker prised open the backline with a sudden turn and swift run and, shrugged off the lone challenger to make room for his shot. His placing was perfect, so was Mohun Bagan’s beginning — well, at least it seemed to be so.
In the 28th minute, Bhaichung’s penchant for the spectacular denied Bagan a surefire goal. Fellow striker Sunil Chhetri’s flick-on off a Rennedy corner fell the former India captain’s way in the far end, but he went for a bicycle-kick while a simple header or poking would have fetched him the goal.
In between, however, there were some signs of Mohun Bagan defence crumbling under ITI sorties. These were early warnings, which Mohun Bagan did not pay heed to, but which were snowballed into a major crisis after the break.
Bivash Ghosh left the field complaining of headache and Rajat Ghosh Dastidar replaced him under the bar. ITI’s second-half resurrection had its origin in that very substitution.
Rajat looked terribly suspect to claim grass-cutting shots and all three goals he conceded exposed his fallibility in this respect.
In 62 minutes, when Najeeb chanced upon a ball somewhere between the central line and the Bagan half-line, the entire defence was caught napping.
Dulal Biswas, the lone challenger, tried to hold him back with his hands, but referee Manuel Pereira waved play on. The ITI forward nicely lobbed the ball over an out-of-position Rajat to crash into top corner of the net.
Then between 70th and 75th minutes, ITI went 3-1 up in similar fashion. Tajinder’s 18-yard angular shot had not clue for Rajat while Najeeb’s another long-ranger beat him all ends up.
After Bhaichung’s eventual equaliser, Mohun Bagan went all out for the kill.
Chhetri failed to tab into an open net and both Bhaichung and Barreto could not translate their one-to-one with the ITI goalkeeper into success.
Mohun Bagan: Bivash Ghosh (Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, 46); Santosh Singh, Dulal Biswas, Satish Bharti, Palash Karmakar; Jayanta Sen, Basudeb Mondal (Ajay Singh, 58), Jose Ramirez Barreto, Rennedy Singh; Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia.
ITI: Gumpe Rime; Akshay Das, Firoz (Dipankar Chatterjee, 46), Dhanesh, Tejinder Singh; Niaz Rehman, Murali (Nickson, 54), James Singh, Jitesh (K. Naushad, 78), Jiten Rai; Najeeb Adu.
Referee: Manuel Pereira (Maharashtra).