Bagan stamp superiority
ATK principal owner Sanjiv Goenka got a first-hand experience of Bengal’s most enduring and enthralling battle, at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
He watched from the VVIP Box as the team, which would be a part of his RPSG family from June 1, came up trumps against its arch-rivals in front of 63,756 frenzied spectators.
Yes, Mohun Bagan recorded a 2-1 victory over East Bengal in the I-League Derby and it’s their first since January 2018. Joseba Beitia put Bagan ahead in the 18th minute and then Baba Diawara made it 2-0 in the 65th. Marcos De La Espada reduced the margin in the 71st minute.
Bagan made their life difficult in the latter stage of the second half by allowing East Bengal to crawl back into the match. But luckily for them, the scoreline did not change much. And in the end, the win saw them perched firmly at the top with 17 points from eight matches. East Bengal, on the other hand, languish at the seventh position with eight points from seven matches. Sunday’s was their third loss in as many games.
East Bengal were completely clueless against the Bagan onslaught led by Beitia and ably supported by Nongdamba Naorem. Naorem was a livewire on the left and East Bengal’s Pintu Mahata and Kamalpreet Singh had no answer to the guile of this youngster.
Beitia on the other hand was at his sublime best. The silken touches, the swerve of the body, the deft footwork — the Spaniard did everything.
When the Mohun Bagan players came out for the warm-up session an hour before the kick-off, a section of the East Bengal fans were heard chanting ‘ATK, ATK, ATK’. Beitia did not miss the taunt and had looked back to see from where it came. And after he got his goal, Beitia ran to celebrate towards that particular section of the East Bengal crowd to inflict a pinch of revenge.
Still, East Bengal got their chances. Santos was denied by Dhanachandra Singh’s timely intervention; Lalrindika missed a sitter; Kassim Aidara’s poor delivery from inside the box could not find Santos. Alejandro Menendez Garcia’s men were denied by the woodwork also. Minutes after Marcos made it 2-1, Juan Mera’s booming left footer from 20 yards hit the horizontal.
Now the goals.
The first one came in the 18th minute. Baba played the ball to Beitia who freed Naorem on the right. The young midfielder got past his marker Kamalpreet and then delivered a looping centre inside the East Bengal box. Beitia, who was following the ball, headed it in past rival goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte. Strangely, none of the East Bengal players bothered to mark the Spaniard.
Bagan’s second came five minutes after the hour-mark and goalkeeper Ralte should take the blame for it. He had no reason to palm away an innocuous VP Suhair effort which was missing the target anyway. From the resultant corner came Baba’s first goal in Bagan shirt. Beitia’s corner found the Senegalese striker, whose free header found the far corner. This time also, strangely, neither Marti Crespi nor Lalrindika bothered to mark Baba.
East Bengal pulled one back in the 71st minute. Substitute Edmund Lalrindika, whose introduction gave a new lease of life to Alejandro’s men, played a delightful ball for Marcos De La Espada. The Spaniard, who from the kick-off had only two touches on the ball, finished it with a bang.
Spurred on by the goal, East Bengal threw everything at Bagan. But goal No. 2 eluded them. Soon referee Ajit Meitei blew the final whistle. Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna and support staff hugged each other in delight.
The Bagan supporters were chanting ‘Beitia, Beitia’. Tucking his Man of the Match award under his arm, the Spaniard ran from the presentation ceremony to join his teammates in acknowledging the cheers.
The Bagan boat is sailing now.