I-League 2017-18: Mohun Bagan dominate midfield to register crucial win over East Bengal in Kolkata Derby

A 1-0 win over East Bengal handed Mohun Bagan a crucial win in the first boro derby of the season as they set the ball rolling in the domestic campaign, in search for their second I-League title. The stalemate with Minerva FC in their opening fixture had raised questions about the Mariners’ ability to effectively challenge for the title, but the doubt-mongers were put to rest with Bagan’s showing in the crucial derby.

Setting up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Yuto Kinowaki and Raynier Fernandes in the base of the midfield, Mohun Bagan all but annulled East Bengal’s attacking threats between the midfield channels and orchestrated the play through the centre of the pitch. Kinowaki, making his derby debut for Bagan on Sunday, effortlessly controlled the tempo of the game – starving Mahmoud Al Amna of the ball and isolating Willis Plaza for majority of the game.

 I-League 2017-18: Mohun Bagan dominate midfield to register crucial win over East Bengal in Kolkata Derby

Mohun Bagan edged past East Bengal 1-0 in the Kolkata Derby. Image courtesy: I-League

While Mohun Bagan’s deep players won the second balls in the midfield and shut out Katsumi Yusa from creating substantially, Sony Norde’s tireless running defined Bagan’s performance on the afternoon – methodical yet effective. The Haitian, one of the experienced campaigners in the Bagan ranks, has come a long way from his first season in the I-League – Norde dropped deep to help out his defense whenever East Bengal advanced, often running through a maze of ‘Red and Gold’ shirts to start counter-attacks.

An effervescent Norde dribbled past his markers with an alarming consistency, forcing East Bengal’s hands to make an early substitution for Mehtab Singh, replacing him with Lalramchullova at right-back. Norde’s shot halfway through the first-half, after he had fooled half of East Bengal’s defence with his close control on the left flank, soared the temperatures within the stadium, raising the crowd on its feet. Although Luis Barreto made a good save to keep things level, Ansumana Kromah could have done better on the rebound.

Aser Pierrick Dipanda’s injury convoluted things for Bagan, but they were the more decisive of the two teams in the final third. “We should have won by at least five-to-six goals. We could have won a penalty also in the first half had the refereeing been better. But a win is a win whether one goal or by five goals,” an emphatic Sanjoy Sen declared after the game.

Yet, it was East Bengal who started the game on a stronger note. Khalid Jamil set up his side in a narrow 4-1-4-1 system, with Yusa and Al Amnah his primary attacking outlets, but Mohun Bagan’s midfield siege left East Bengal short of ideas, especially since Jamil’s wide midfielders Brandon Vanlalremdika and Laldanmawia Ralte failed to utilize the space behind Bagan full-backs.

“They failed to create chances, there was only one which was saved by Shilton Paul. There was nothing noteworthy,” asserted Sen after the match and rightly so – in spite of their attacking riches in the midfield, the lack of a strong targetman could hurt East Bengal’s prospects in the long run. Plaza was once again a passenger for the ride, failing to influence the game at all.

East Bengal often lacked the end-product in their attacking third, but it was as much due to Bagan’s defensive solidarity as it was due to their own lack of intensity necessary for a game of this stature. Switching to a traditional 4-4-2 in the second half helped East Bengal gain a foothold in the game but they never really threatened Bagan’s lead.

Among all of Jamil’s predicaments with the squad, the most confounding has been East Bengal’s defensive frailties over the course of the first two matches. Not only were the centre-half pairing of Gurwinder Singh and Eduardo Ferreira eager to dive into lunging tackles, but the lack of cohesion in their defensive structure speaks of deeper problems in the ranks.

Bagan’s goal at the 39th minute came through their own centre-half Kingsley Obuneme, who was left unmarked in the six-yard box to slot home an easy header from a swerving Norde corner, which East Bengal failed to clear.

“We practised defending set pieces. But this is my mistake, I take 100 percent responsibility. We conceded a silly goal. The marking was not proper. It was a total defensive lapse. Whoever was in-charge of marking Kingsley inside the box didn’t do his job,” lamented Jamil but didn’t specify how his team will overcome their debilities.

Bagan capped off their win with a superlative performance from Kingsley, the former Aizawl man was engulfed with emotions at the end of the game, for the Nigerian had completely stymied East Bengal. It is still early days in the I-League but a strong rearguard action will be necessary for Bagan to go the distance and reclaim the title.

“We're not the underdogs. Those who billed us as that have been proved wrong. Winning the I-League trophy is our priority and to get it with a victory over East Bengal is all the more a satisfying feeling,” Sen concluded.

Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 11:33:10 IST