An encounter that promised to be one of the most memorable matches of the season fizzled out into an extremely one-sided win for Mohun Bagan as they put their arch-rivals East Bengal to the sword with ease, winning 2-0. Asier Pierrick Dipanda Dicka's brace helped the Mariners secure the victory and move up to fourth spot in the table as they closed to within three points of their rivals, having played a game less. East Bengal, on the other hand, have not won in their last three fixtures and are in danger of falling six points back in the title race, as they sit on 19 points, three behind leaders Minerva Punjab, having played two games more.
Appointed coach till the end of the season, Shankarlal Chakraborty opted for a youthful team that lined up in a 4-4-2, with new recruit Akram Moghrabi partnering Dipanda Dicka up front. The team was high on energy as evidenced by the presence of Nikhil Kadam and SK Faiaz on the flanks, with Raynier Fernandes playing alongside Cameron Watson in midfield. With Arijit Bagui and Ricky Lallaumawma providing purposeful running and pace from the full-back positions, Bagan's plan was clear from the start. They were focused on pressing their opponents high up the pitch and then break fast whenever they got the opportunity.
Their setup was designed to get them off to a fast start and that is exactly what happened just one minute into the match. Breaking down the right, Kadam put in a peach of a cross that was cushioned downwards by Moghrabi for Dipanda, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net to give the Maroon and Green brigade the lead. The horrendous start to the game was worsened for East Bengal when attacking midfielder Al Amna had to be substituted after suffering a foot injury, with Armand Bazzou coming in for him.
Jamil's formation did not work from the beginning, with the team starved of any penetration through the centre, as strikers Dudu Omagbemi and Willis Plaza had outings to forget. The latter was especially at fault, messing up possible attacking opportunities on multiple occasions with his bad control and misplaced passes. The loss of Al Amna caused the team to be bereft of any creativity, with Katsumi Yusa not receiving any support on the left.
The Red and Gold outfit were struggling and looking for some inspiration when a corner swung in by Katsumi was headed in by Plaza, only for the assistant referee to flag for the ball having crossed the touchline when the corner was delivered. This happened a couple of times during the match, another indication that East Bengal were just not at the races for the derby.
Criticised for his inability to consistently play good, Dicka stepped up big time in the derby and delivered for a team that was banking on his ability to score goals at crucial junctures. Following the first goal, he was marked very closely by the East Bengal defence but he produced an exquisite piece of skill to free himself up and score the team's second of the afternoon. Fernandes' delivery from the corner was aimed at the Cameroonian striker and he left the ground and met the ball with an improvised scissors kick that stunned everyone in the stadium. That goal from Dicka showed how impactful and inspirational a player he could be when given the service he craves.
With the wind knocked out of their sails, Khalid Jamil's side struggled to pose any threat to Bagan custodian Shilton Paul. Rafique's scuffed attempt from Yusa's cross and Dudu's header from Cavin Lobo's cross that went wide late in the game were their only proper chances. Despite making two first half substitutions and removing captain Arnab Mondal later on, who had a game to forget, to try and get more attacking players in, Jamil was unable to inspire his team to play better. The injury to Al Amna and the absence of Laldanmawia Ralte deprived them of two of their best attacking players, with the team lacking pace and penetration in their attacking play.
Interim coach Chakraborty's attacking approach paid rich dividends with Indian youngsters like Kadam, Fernandes, Faiaz and Ricky impressing with their intensity and energetic running. Kadam had a couple of opportunities to add to the team's goal tally but was thwarted on one occasion by Luis Barreto in the East Bengal goal, while he hit the post in the dying seconds of the match. Had his finishing been better, he would have capped off a perfect personal performance with a much-deserved goal. A special word of praise is also due to the central defensive partnership of Kingshuk Debnath and Kingsley, as they used their strength, anticipation and pace to perfection, snuffing any potential threat to the goal comfortably
The forward pairing of Dicka and Moghrabi looks physically imposing and technically adept, with the pace and strong delivery of Kadam and Faiaz complementing their abilities well. Chakraborty might not be as flamboyant as his predecessor Sanjoy Sen was in the way he speaks to the media and presents himself, but his footballing philosophy is one that is definitely commendable and beautiful to watch.
Having taken Aizawl FC to the I-League title last year, Khalid Jamil was brought to East Bengal to do the same, something they have never won since the league's inception. His team overcame a tough start to play well and get some wins on the board, but their recent blip has put his position in danger, with the management at the club not particularly renowned for their patience. The Red and Gold brigade are in danger of falling nine points behind leaders Minerva Punjab and their wait for a first national league title since 2004 could continue if they fail to pull up their socks.
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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2018 21:54:25 IST