| Mike Okoro (left) heads in East Bengalís winner against Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: A draw would at least have been a moral victory for Mohun Bagan. They played their hearts out in the first half, and despite changing ends at 1-1, silly mistakes in the defence robbed the initiative and the match in the second. In the end, East Bengalís 2-1 win in their National Football League derby at the Salt Lake Stadium looked deserving.
Dipankar Roy put the league champions ahead in the 23rd minute and Ashim Biswas restored parity in the 40th. Mike Okoro headed home the winner in the 65th minute.
All the tension that the coaches predicted didnít really seem to matter in the first half, with coach Aloke Mukherjeeís green-maroon brigade quickly getting a measure of their opponents, using excellent half-line feed and a neat passing game. Veteran Basudeb Mondal was all over, so was Rennedy Singh. Eduardo was providing excellent support to Biswas upfront, taking a good deal of load off the defence.
In the defence, too, Leonardo was excellent in interception, showing good anticipation. However, Rishi Kapoor remained a sad story.
While East Bengalís Okoro was outstanding up the right and moving into the area of kill, the forward line, especially the famed duo of Bhaichung Bhutia and Cristiano de lima Junior was barely allowed any elbow space. The idea was to get Okoro to shovel up the feed to the forward line for a shot.
In the 12th minute Basudeb was up the middle, sending a rising centre to Eduardo on the right. East Bengal goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee made a sterling diving save of the Brazilianís powerful left-footed volley.
Junior did try a header at the other end, but it was a rather half-hearted effort.
The goal actually came quite against the run of play, in a counter-attack of sorts, as Bhaichung received one from a melee in the rival defensive third. He passed onto Okoro on the right and the latter lifted for Dipankar. Dipankarís right-footer from an acute angle was a tentative shot, but it took Bagan íkeeper Bilifang Narzaryís fingers and went in.
East Bengal were suddenly on the offensive from then, the Bagan defence looking pretty shaky. Okoro again pressed in, lifting one from the right to the goalmouth in the 37th minute. Bhaichung had two defenders on guard, but himself moved in late for the kill, wasting the opportunity.
The equaliser, too, came against the run of play. While it was East Bengal charging in, a misspass had Leonardo and Eduardo move up off a one-two. Leonardoís rising centre reached the goalmouth and Biswas jumped quickly to head in brilliantly past the far post, with íkeeper Mukherjee stranded at the near.
Three minutes into the second session of play Eduardo hurt his ankle and had to be replaced by Sunil Chhetri. The result was a big loss of attacking sting in the Bagan forward line. That also pushed the defensive screen in lateral pressure, showing gaps.
Chhetri did get his chance to be in the sun when he was fed a lifting centre from the left by Rennedy, but the former, placed well, headed off target from close. Had that been scored the story of the day could well have been different.
Junior, too, disappointed in the 57th minute. A ball from the left was taken by a diving Narzary, but in the fall it spilled out and at the feet of Junior. The Brazilian was too slow to trap and turn as Harpreet Singh cleared from near the goalline.
Then came the clincher. It was a Kapoor folly that resulted in a flag-kick on the right. Alvito DíCunhaís low shot could also have been intercepted, but it moved into the melee instead. Okoro had to barely jump before heading in.
As the teams go into a long lay-off from the National League ó the national team goes into the pre-World Cup matches in Margao ó East Bengal carry 21 points and Bagan 14.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Dipankar Roy (Alvito DíCunha, 60), Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Subhashis Roy Chowdhury, Subhas Chakraborty, Mike Okoro, Debjit Ghosh, Sujoy Dutta (Anit Ghosh, 70), Bhaichung Bhutia (K. Kulothungan, 83), Cristiano de lima Junior.
Mohun Bagan: Bilifang Narzary, Babun Kar, Harpreet Singh, Leonardo, Rishi Kapoor (Lolendra Singh, 83), Mehtab Hossain, Basudeb Mondal, Rocus Lamare, Rennedy Singh, Eduardo (Sunil Chhetri, 48), Ashim Biswas.
Referee: S.M. Balu (Karnataka).