| Bijen Singh embraces Bhaichung Bhutia after the opening goal at East Bengal ground on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Aug. 16: It was a nail-biting day for East Bengal in their CFL Super Division league match at home on Saturday. Squandering a zillion chances, tension was palpable before Bhaichung Bhutia broke the freeze shot with a 78th-minute strike that was his eighth goal of this league, and completed his ninth a minute later.
That did dissolve the Tollygunge resolve, but it was after ages of waiting and wondering why the best team and the best attack line in the country today, with all the goalmouth dominance, can’t convert simple chances into goals.
The passing game was fine, the half-line pretty easy on the run, and the expected Tollygunge goalmouth crowd was being handled with experienced ease. But you don’t win a soccer match if you can’t score, and some of the misses were pretty outrageous.
In the 23rd minute a free-kick, 30 yards off, sailed into the box where Douglas da Silva trapped and turned. Then, from handshaking distance of the goal, shot over. It was a chronicle of the way the team has failed to function. It cannot be attributed wholly to the absence skipper Suley Musah, out with a double-booking.
Bhaichung, who let go a 15th-minute opportunity, headed over another from close in the 24th minute.
One expected seven-eight Tollygunge men in their defensive zone. It was a match from which they needed to cream a point. One didn’t expect East Bengal to fall to the test of first-half weariness that should lead to second-half lax. The ASEAN Club champions almost did, as Tollygunge coach Subrata Bhattacharya pushed Kajal Bhattacharya in the defence and sent his boys on counterattacks.
Misses apart, though, Douglas was a livewire. He snatched, he overlapped, he attacked, he defended, and generally was Man Friday everywhere.
It was he, too, who made the first goal possible. Debjit Ghosh advanced to the half-line (he was pushed too far back Saturday, functioning well every time he moved ahead) and sent a cross to the left into the box where Douglas rose to head down to the feet of Bhaichung at the goalmouth. Bhaichung’s left-footer was quickly into the netting.
That broke the camel’s back, and the Tollygunge defence dispersed. A minute later Mike Okoro (who, along with defender Mahesh Gawli, was pretty low key Saturday), pushed initiative into the box and Bhaichung chipped into the netting.
The relief was palpable. After the match East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick went over and shook coach Bhattacharya’s hand. The meaning in it, if any, was lost in the raucous fan-base. All will be good if the motivation is back.
EAST BENGAL: Sandip Nandy, Sur Kumar Singh, M. Suresh, Mahesh Gawli, Sasthi Duley, Debjit Ghosh, Douglas da Silva, Alvito D’Cunha (Dipankar Roy, 64), Shylo Malsawmtluanga (Bijen Singh, 70), Bhaichung Bhutia, Mike Okoro.
TOLLYGUNGE AGRAGAMI: Chinmoy Banerjee, Kobijit Khotel, Partha Sarathi Dey, Isiaka Awoyemi, Gautam Debnath, Amit Das, Sandip Das, Manik Barman (Prakash Koley, 19; Laltu Das, 35), Shamsi Reza (Kajal Bhattacharya, 70), Sourav Dutta, Akeem Abolanle.
Referee: Subrata Sarkar.