The ingredients were all there for a red-hot derby in wintry Kolkata when Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clashed at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday amid huge spectator interest. But if the buildup was spicy, the match itself was a bland affair as the arch-rivals settled for a 1-1 draw that kept the green-and-maroons on top of I-League. A Ranti Martins volley had given East Bengal the lead but the Mariners’ Cornell Glen slotted home an equalizer in the final 15 minutes.
Here are five takeaways from the first ‘Boro’ derby of the year:
Unconventional Starting Line-ups: The first indication that it would be a closely contested affair appeared when Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen decided to field destroyers Pranoy Halder and Souvik Chakraborty in the deep midfield. Biswajit Bhattacharjee opted against starting with Harmanjot Khabra.
Both sides went into the game in a 4-4-2 formation – favouring to attack down their left flank, all the while maintaining a steady defensive shield in front of the backline. Azharuddin Mallick and Abinash Ruidas represented the youth contingent of both clubs, although the former was hauled off just after 12 minutes in favour of Balwant Singh who looked far from being fully match-fit.
A Tale of Two Halves: Keeping in mind the fact that Mohun Bagan boast of devastating firepower upfront, Bhattacharjee employed a tactical straitjacket which completely subdued the Bagan’s front three. During the first 45 minutes, East Bengal sat deep in their own half – determined not to lose shape and disrupting Bagan’s fluid style of play.
This approach, however, kept Do Dong-hyun and Martins isolated for long spells with the onus of creativity resting solely on Bikash Jairu. The 23-year-old started brightly – using his pace on the left wing to belt in crosses but the red-and-golds rarely committed bodies forward.
With Souvik Chakaraborty and Pranoy Halder in midfield, Mohun Bagan were equally efficient in stifling attacks through the middle. A lack of pressing from the visitors ensured the league leaders won majority of the second balls in midfield.
Although the passing was particularly underwhelming resulting in a combined total of around 50% wrong passes, the game opened up a bit in the second half with players choosing to take risks. Bagan orchestrated more attacking moves but looked short of ideas, especially in the final third.
A dearth of incisive passes meant Bagan had to use the width on offer – Norde once again the leading light through his pace and trickery but the Haitian (who joined the first-team squad less than two weeks back) would need a few more matches under his belt before the goals start flowing in.
Well-organized Defensive Displays: For all their blistering displays up front, the Bagan defence had been considered the Achilles’ heel of Sen’s side but the Mariners proved the doubters wrong and how! Luciano Sabrosa had a brilliant game with Kingshuk Debnath on his side – the centre halves played a crucial role in stalling the charges of Martins and Do.
The battle for supremacy between Sabrosa and Martins was a consistent theme throughout the entire 90 minutes, with the Brazilian not allowing Martins space and time on the ball. Left back Dhanachandra played a similar role with respect to Do, dispossessing the South Korean every time he received a ball on Bengal’s right wing to expand play.
Similar scenes unfolded on the opposite end with Nigerian Bello Razzaq marking Glen out of the match in the first half. Playing with his back towards the goal, Glen was rarely allowed to turn with the ball at his feet. With the Bagan skipper Katsumi starting on the right midfield and Rafique rarely venturing forward, Bagan’s link-up play was found wanting.
Officiating Leaves Much to Be Desired: During the charged atmosphere of a derby when tempers flare up, intense tackles are regular occurrences. However, referee Arumughan Rowan allowed the game to go away from him due to his lenient approach in the first half. In spite of tackles from behind, two footed challenges, cynical fouling – neither side saw a yellow during the first half.
Just like Sobrosa’s hurried challenges on Martins were overlooked, East Bengal’s veteran left-back Saumik Dey caught a few lucky breaks with his tackles on Katsumi from behind not drawing any word of caution from the referee.
A Classic Case of centre Forwards Who Beat the Defensive Trap: In a scrappy match of this nature, clinical finishing from the centre forwards is of utmost importance. For long spells, Glen and Martins cut a frustrating figure but not due to their lack of effort. Eventually, their persistence paid off.
Both the managers had adopted a similar policy when it came to their attacking players – Do and Balwant were the roving forwards while Martins and Glen acted as the focal point of their respective pairings. A lack of service and support from teammates meant Glen and Martins had to take on the defenders on their own, often to unsuccessful outcomes.
Martins opened the scoring with an excellent volley after racing in behind Sobrosa. The goal came pretty much against the run of play but was a deserving reward for the Nigerian’s workrate.
Mohun Bagan’s attacks became more potent in the second half as well with Cordell Glen finding space behind the East Bengal defence which was already sitting deep. His bullet header off Norde’s well-measured set-piece delivery which helped Bagan avoid a defeat was just another demonstration of the former Trinidadian World Cupper’s abilities.
A 1-1 stalemate was far from what supporters of either club had expected. Although not entertaining to spectators, the match showcased a profound tactical battle with promising signs for both teams – an aspect which might prove beneficial with the clubs preparing for greater battles in the coming weeks.