Monday, 30th October 2017

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Mohun Bagan dominate, East Bengal experiment

The Spanish coach did bring in Jaime and Bidyasagar in the 71st minute

By Angshuman Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 2.09.19, 2:31 AM
  • Updated 2.09.19, 2:31 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Surabuddin Mallick (left) and Abhishek Ambekar vie for the ball during the CFL Derby at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

The stalemate at Salt Lake produced contrasting impressions in the aisles of the stadium. If Bagan fans left thinking what could have been if Suhair VP had not messed up two easy chances and Alexander Romario Jesuraj one, East Bengal supporters thanked their stars for not having to leave with the ignominy of a defeat.

The Calcutta Football League Derby — the season’s first showdown between the two fiercest rivals — ended goalless but it was Kibu Vicuna’s men who should get the accolades.

In the build-up to the Derby, no one gave even a slender chance to the green and maroon brigade. And there were reasons for that. East Bengal, under Alejandro Menendez Garcia, looked more settled while the perception was that Bagan were still a work in progress.

But what was seen on a gloomy Sunday afternoon was just the opposite. The defending champions dictated the proceedings for most part of the game and at times, East Bengal were left chasing shadows.

Vicuna started with Fran Gonzalez and left out Salva Chamorro.

It was a masterstroke as Bagan got the much-needed spine in front of the back four. Fran, along with Sheikh Sahil, stood firm and that allowed Joseba Beitia to move up without thinking much about the defence. East Bengal’s Kasim Aidara followed Beitia everywhere for some time but after the first 15 minutes, Beitia took the Senegalese medio in his stride.

Set-pieces, freeing the lateral backs with quality passes or giving confidence to the likes of Suhair and Nongdomna Naorem, Beitia did everything on Sunday. Once a Beitia corner found Gonzalez, whose header missed the far post by a whisker.

Bagan defender Fran Morante also gave a good account of himself. He looked rock solid in the defence and constantly spoke to his nervy captain Gurjinder Singh. Three minutes before the hour-mark, dreadful footwork by Gurjinder saw Bagan lose possession inside the box to Marcos De La Espada. Morante was there at the right time to save his captain the blushes.

The two misses by Suhair were unpardonable though. The man, who bailed out Bagan against Real Kashmir FC in the Durand Cup semi-final last month, could have found his photo splashed all over the newspapers on Monday morning. But then inexperience did not allow him to be the hero.

Two minutes before half-time, Suhair broke free with the East Bengal defence caught napping. He ran with acres of space in front and then, in haste, took a grounder from 17 yards. That did not trouble East Bengal goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte at all. Then in the second half, Beitia freed Ashutosh Mehta on the right.

Suhair just needed to tap in Mehta’s delightful delivery from inside the six-yard box. Unbelievably, he missed. But Suhair was not all about those misses.

Playing as a single striker, the Keralite constantly kept the East Bengal defence under pressure. The mistake committed by Mehtab Singh which led to Suhair’s first missed chance was because the former East Bengal forward kept the rival defence under pressure.

He constantly snapped at Mehtab and Marti Crespi’s heels. Bagan’s Nongdomba Naorem and Lalram Chullova also kept the left flank active, which did not allow Abhishek Ambekar much time to overlap.

Naorem’s substitute Jesuraj missed a sitter at the fag end of the match. Beitia once again sent in a quality delivery from the left and with the East Bengal goalkeeper completely out of position, all Jesuraj had to do was prod in. He failed.

East Bengal’s cause was also not helped by coach Alejandro, who seems to be experimenting in every match.

Jaime Santos, along with Bidyasagar Singh, were on the bench. Instead, untested Marcos, who got just 62 minutes of match time against BBS Sporting last Sunday, got a start. Young and promising Ronaldo Oliviera also found his name on the team sheet. With a little bit of luck the Goan could have found his name on the scoresheet too.

It was surprising to see Jaime and Bidyasagar’s names missing from the first XI. Keeping two in-form players, when they are not injured, on the bench in a Derby match defied logic. A defeat on Sunday — East Bengal were lucky that they did not lose — would have made matters difficult for Alejandro.

The Spanish coach did bring in Jaime and Bidyasagar in the 71st minute. It was ‘two’ little too late.