The much anticipated Kolkata derby ended in a 0-0 draw as neither Mohun Bagan nor East Bengal were able to break the deadlock in Saturday afternoon's I-League fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Mohun Bagan lined up in an interesting 4-3-3 formation with the front three of Tolgay Ozbey, Odafa Okolie and youngster Manish Bhargav. Tolgay and Odafa usually operated on either flanks and Manish played in a slightly withdrawn role in support of the front two. What this meant was that the Mohun Bagan full-backs enjoyed space on the flanks especially with East Bengal predominantly playing down the centre.
East Bengal lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation too, but with Harmanjot Singh Khabra deputising at right-back and a midfield made up of Lalrindika Ralte, Mehtab Hossein and Ishfaq Ahmed. Penn Orji enjoyed a free role but usually pushed down the right flank with the two strikers being Baljit Singh Sahni and Edeh Chidi. The inclusion of Baljit and the exclusion of Robin Singh from the entire squad was surprising but could be understood as Morgan took a tough stand after Robin who had reportedly showed up late for training the day before.
The match started off at a good pace, with Mohun Bagan pressing well as the Red and Golds looked to build up play from the midfield. It was in the 5th minute itself that Arnab Mondal almost committed 'hara-kiri' as Tolgay’s ball into the box from the right was almost inadvertently put into the back of his own net but it thankfully went wide.
Spotting Shilton Paul’s reluctance at dealing with lofted balls into the box, the visitors switched their game plan and started launching long balls into the box at every opportunity trying to force an error from the Mariners’ keeper. The relentless barrage of long balls was however dealt with fairly well by the centre-back combination of Aiborlang Khongjee and Echezona Anyichie.
It was the home team again which had two back to back chances to get their names on the scoresheet in the 20th minute. First it was good play by Nabi down the left and his cross into the box was kept in play by Odafa, who squared it for Manish Maithani who made a run into the box but his feeble shot was held easily by Abhijit Mondal. Then it was a great bit of play by Tolgay who almost single handedly put the East Bengal defence to the sword as he cut in from the left and dribbled past two Red and Gold shirts with ease before his shot into the box blocked for a corner.
Then at the half hour mark, the Mariners had probably the best chance of the half for either teams as Odafa won a free-kick at the edge of the box after Mehtab was deemed to have unfairly tackled the Nigerian. Odafa’s stunning free-kick left Abhijit absolutely stranded as he was wrong-footed but unfortunately for the home team, the free-kick swerved a bit too much and was thwarted by the left post. Just a couple of seconds later Odafa had yet another chance to get the opening goal as he tested Abhijit at his near post but the Red and Golds' custodian stood strong.
On the counter, East Bengal had a chance themselves as Penn broke free down the right after shambolic defending from Jewel Raja and his cross into the box should have been buried by an unmarked Baljit Sahni but his header went inexplicably wide.
In the 36th minute, it was a cracking tackle from Echezona as Penn Orji was clean through and even being second best for the ball, a well timed sliding tackle only resulted in a corner, clearly saving a goal scoring opportunity.
Two minutes before half time, East Bengal had a shout for a penalty as Aibor hacked down Chidi in the box but the referee was not interested and rightly so as the ball had gone out of play.
After the half-time break, Mohun Bagan started the more energetic of the two teams as they strived to push forward and took the game to the opposition.
However there was controversy just six minutes after the restart as Odafa did ever so well down the right before finding Tolgay just inside the box who had taken up a great position for a shot. The Australian’s shot was blocked by Uga Okpara who put his body on the line. The referee in spite of being near the incident refused to award a spot-kick as the ball had appeared to strike the defender’s hand.
As the game began to be dominated in the midfield, neither team created any clear-cut chances. A half chance for East Bengal came in the 70th minute as Chidi cut in but he tried to do too much on his own and ended up shooting horribly wide.
With Odafa gone missing after being cramped, it was East Bengal in the dying minutes as they tried testing Shilton from range with substitute Cavin Lobo taking a pop himself but although the shot had plenty of power, it did lack direction.
With about ten minutes left, Chidi wasted another glorious opportunity to put his team in the lead as he missed a free header from point-blank range from an Ishfaq Ahmed cross down the right. With the introduction of Quinton Jacobs into the fold the Namibian tried to link up with Odafa but unfortunately the final touch or the final ball let the home team down in the one or two chances that they managed to create.
Abhijit Mondal almost gifted Mohun Bagan an unlikely win in added time, when he almost made a mess of a long ball towards Odafa and his poor clearance was almost pounced on by the big Nigerian.
Karim Bencherifa will take the point but will be disappointed at not getting the penalty decision. However, he will be pleased with his side's performance. Meanwhile, Trevor James Morgan will be crestfallen as three points were absolutely necessary to be in touch with Churchill Brothers in the title race and this would be more two points lost, than a point gained.
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