| Habeeb Adekunle tries to stop East Bengalís Mike Okoro in their Super Division tie at Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Aug. 23: Mohammedan Sporting didnít play too badly, neither were East Bengal outstanding. But these days, the difference between the ASEAN Club champions and any other Indian team seems to be of a minimum of three goals (barring the odd one, that is).
Things were no different on Saturday as the defending champions beat Mohammedan Sporting 4-1 in the Super Division match at Salt Lake Stadium. Mike Okoro scored a brace, Bijen Singh and Surkumar Singh completed the scoreline. Dipendu Biswas scored a consolation goal for Mohammedan Sporting.
It wonít be an overstatement that Subhas Bhowmick beat his guru P.K. Banerjee on the tactical front. Bhowmick rightly anticipated that Mohammedan Sporting would follow a 4-5-1 formation, trying to crowd out East Bengalís raids ahead of the penetrative zone.
But his boys didnít go all out in that phase, thus reducing the risk of allowing a sudden counterattack. They waited for Mohammedan Sporting to make the mistake, and once they did, there was no stopping East Bengal.
However, it has to be said East Bengalís famed right wing was rendered ineffective in the first 35 minutes. But such is the depth of the team that they can fall back on an alternative strategy when Ďplan Aí doesnít click.
They started operating down the left, with Mike Okoro being the lynchpin. The Nigerian was the real star, distributing superbly and continuously shuffling position to disturb the rival defence.
Okoro opened the scoring in the 36th minute when Hossain Mustafi left him free inside the box following a Bijen Singh floater from the left.
The second, four minutes later, sparked a controversy. Okoro fooled marker Mustafi after an Alvito DíCunha corner and tapped the ball into the open net. Mohammedan Sporting players claimed there had been an infringement and started heckling the referee. The assistant referees came to the rescue and the match started after four minutes.
Referee Udayan Halder didnít show the guts to flash the yellow card to any Mohammedan Sporting player.
The third goal, in the 67th minute, was a signature of Okoroís class. He took away three defenders with him and sent in a minus, which Bijen simply tapped in. Against the run of play, the champions conceded a goal seven minutes from time. Dipenduís free-kick from about 25 yards out beat Sandip Nandy, who was not in position.
East Bengal, it seemed, scored the fourth out of their determination to finish things on a high. Surkumar played a one-two with Chandan Das, ran about 20 yards, and slotted in past an onrushing goalkeeper.
Bhowmickís boys have 27 points from nine games while Mohammedan Sporting have 18, also from nine.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy, Surkumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Debjit Ghosh (Dipak Mondal, 42), M. Suresh, Sasthi Duley, S. Malsawmtluanga (Dipankar Roy, 75), Douglas da Silva, Bijen Singh, Mike Okoro, Alvito DíCunha (Chandan Das, 64).
Mohammedan Sporting: K.M. Refeek, Amjad Ali Khan, Hossain Mustafi, Habeeb Adekunle, Momocha Singh, Bungo Singh (Abdul Rauf Khan, 81), Satish Bharti, Zaheer Abbas (Iqbal Khan, 54), Khalid Siddiqui (Madhab Das, 68), Sheikh Sanjeeb, Dipendu Biswas.
Referee: Udayan Halder.