A listless display from Karim Bencherifa's boys was enough to earn them their first point against United Sikkim FC, who were second from bottom...
Mohun Bagan took on United Sikkim FC at the Salt Lake Stadium, their first game at the venue since the ill-fated Kolkata derby on December 9, 2012 and returned with a solitary point after playing a goalless stalemate.
The Mariners started with Syed Rahim Nabi upfront beside Tolgay Ozbey. Echezona Anyichie and Aibor Khongjee were the centre-backs while Nirmal Chettri and Snehasish Chakraborty were deployed as the full backs.
Meanwhile, for United Sikkim, Anwar Ali and Sandesh Jhingan returned at the heart of defense while new recruit John Matkin was selected upfront next to Nurudeen Salau.
The encounter started off at a quick pace, as the away team looked to peg back the hosts immediately. In the second minute itself, Salau’s speculative effort from range was tipped onto the post by Arindam Bhattacharya for a corner.
The Mariners had the next chance as Tolgay was brought down at the edge of the box and the ensuing freekick taken by the Australian, rattled the crossbar and stayed out, after keeper Monotosh Ghosh was well beaten.
As the game went on, the contest was characterized by a lack of quality as the new look strike force of Karim Bencherifa’s boys looked all at sea, and lacked any sort of chemistry together. The goalkeepers at both ends too looked remarkably fragile. Arindam could only parry Salau’s volley from outside the box in the 25th minute and could thank his stars that it did not fall to an opponent to take advantage of.
In the 30th minute, Denson Devadas could have easily given his side the lead, as he latched onto a Jewel Raja ball into the box, and had all the time and space to shoot but only shot high, to the relief of the United Sikkim defense.
In the 36th minute, it was the Sikkim goalie, who showed indecisiveness as Nirmal Chettri’s long ball was almost headed into the empty net after Monotosh had come out of the line but failed to collect the ball. Infact the goalkeeper flapped at a corner yet again, just before half time as he allowed Nabi to get a free header in, from point blank range, which to his relief flew wide.
The home team had an early chance in the second half through Manish Maithani but Monotosh was alert in goal to read the situation well and palm it away to safety. Just before the hour mark, Tolgay Ozbey wasted another glorious opportunity as Nabi did all the work down the right before sliding the ball to the Australian's path who failed to pick out the top corner, in spite of having all the time in the world.
Five minutes later, it was Denson Devadas who made a hash of a shot, when he had space in the box after a moment of pinball inside the Sikkim box, where the defenders threw themselves at the ball to get timely blocks in.
Karim Bencherifa decided to make a tactical change as he changed from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 bringing on CS Sabeeth to partner Nabi and Tolgay upfront while Rakesh Masih came on to give Denson and Maithani scope to push on in search of a goal.
In the 78th minute, Bagan had yet another lucky break, as John Matkin was given offside inspite of the ball striking Anyichie on the way. This was just minutes after United Sikkim were denied a clear penalty after Snehasish Chakraborty handled the ball intentionally inside the box.
As four minutes of added time was announced, Tolgay managed to find the back of the net, but referee Santosh Kumar ruled in favour of United Sikkim as the ball was supposed to be played back to Monotosh, after Anwar Ali was carried out injured.
The match ended in a stalemate as both teams find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table and on evidence of this match, deserved to remain there.
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