Mohun Bagan beat East Bengal 2-1, stay atop I-League
Joseba Beitia (18th) and Baba Dawara (65th) struck on either side of the break as Mohun Bagan put up a solid display both in the attack and defence to grab three points, consolidating their position atop the table.Updated: Jan 19, 2020 22:39 IST
With cracks in the defence becoming crevasses, it defied belief that Mohun Bagan would protect a two-goal lead in Sunday’s I-League derby. Marcos Espada pulled one back and if East Bengal couldn’t score another it was because the football gods were not in their corner.
There would be near unanimity on Spanish playmaker Joseba Beitia being adjudged the match’s best player—his goal and an assist helping Bagan consolidate their position atop the standings with 17 points from eight games. “Bring it back,” a tifo emblazoned with the I-League trophy was unfurled at the end of 2-1 win at Salt Lake stadium where Papa Diawara scored Bagan’s second goal.
“Only 40% of the competition is done. A win gives you confidence but we need to be humble. I am happy for the supporters and the team but I am not happy with the performance of the defence, especially in the second half. I know derbies are difficult but we have to improve a lot of things if we have to win the competition,” said Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna.
Their third successive defeat keeps them on eight points from seven games but East Bengal coach Alejandro Menendez was bullish about the team’s chances.
“In the second half, we pegged Bagan in their box. We had eight, 10, 12 chances to score, hit the crossbar and, maybe, could have a penalty. If we play like this, we will most of our games,” said Menendez.
Before kick-off, East Bengal fans put up a banner that said they have earned the right to be here through blood ties and not through documents. The team, however, was tentative in the first half—two losses had increased the pressure on the players and that this was a big occasion, said Menendez.
Imphal’s Nongdamba Naorem—on loan from Kerala Blasters—was anything but. The 20-year-old wiry wide left showed he was wearing shoes with wings.
Early in the game that had 63,756 on the terraces, Naorem dribbled past East Bengal right-back Kamalpreet Singh. In the 19th minute, and after good hold-up play by Diawara to a long ball from Fran Morante, Naorem sped into the box, dragged two defenders with him and hooked the ball back from the byline. Running in, Beitia headed home.
“Possibly my first goal with a header,” said Beitia. “Naorem can move well between the lines and play the ball forward. He is not very strong so needs to avoid contact in his half but he handles pressure well. He is a good potential for India but with young players we need to be calm,” said Vicuna.
Unbeaten in their last six games with five wins, Bagan had put away the first real chance of the match. East Bengal exploited Ashutosh Mehta’s tendency to overlap but the final ball lacked quality.
East Bengal were denied the equaliser in the 37th minute through a goalline save from Daneil Cyrus, which kept out a stab from Kassim Aidara. It was the first time Sankar Roy showed how wobbly he was in Bagan’s goal for it was his inability to collect Lalrindika Ralte’s free-kick that had created panic.
Naorem, Beitia and Diawara kept East Bengal defenders busy and it took a reflex save from East Bengal goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte to deny the Senegalese from scoring in the 45th minute.
It was 2-0 in the 64th minute when Diawara rose tallest to head home Beitia’s corner-kick. And the flashlights on mobiles came alive in the Bagan section of the stands.
“We thought the match was over,” said Vicuna. Two minutes earlier, Mehta was substituted because of injury.
East Bengal, buoyed by the arrival of young Edmund Lalrindika, attacked in spades. Roy’s fumbling had Marti Crespi overstepping from close in the 67th minute. Crespi also came close with a header and in the 79th minute, Juan Mera’s long-ranger thudded into the horizontal. Twice, Jaime Santos ballooned over from close.
Between those misses, Espada struck in the 71st minute, latching on to a Lalrindika ball that had the defence split wide open.
“It seemed we just didn’t want the ball,” said Vicuna.