27 months ago, the Mariners' new recruit had brought pin drop silence in the Salt Lake stadium in an AFC Cup match. Goal’s Atanu Mitra, who was in attendance, recalls the action.
It was a sunny and humid day of early March. An AFC Cup group league fixture against a Yemen side on a weekday afternoon was never going to attract East Bengal’s ‘huge’ fan base, but close to a thousand fanatics still made their way into the stands. The hosts also had little choice with the floodlights of the stadium not working since a debacle in the Kolkata derby in November 2011.
Trevor James Morgan started with three strikers with Edmilson Marquez being supported by Tolgay Ozbey and Robin Singh from the flanks. Sanju Pradhan, Sushant Mathew and Harmanjot Khabra made up a three man midfield as Mehtab Hossain was not available. Their opponents had only two foreigners travelling namely Paul Effiong and none other than their ever dependable central defender, Alao Adisa.
However, as the match progressed, the paltry crowd witnessed the worst ever refereeing performance from Bangladesh’s T. Shamsuzzaman and the two Sri Lankan linesmen.
An Edmilson Marquez free-kick from the edge of the box seemed to have crossed the goal-line before o Muaadh AbdulKhaleq gathered it in his gloves. The referee waved play on, much to the agony of the Red and Gold supporters present.
However, the most controversial decision of the match came in the added time of the first half, when Gurwinder Singh went into an aerial tussle with Abdulelah Sharyan, and the referee gave away a spot-kick.
The goal from the penalty was the one separating the two sides at the end of the match, and bottles and other missiles were hurled at the officials.
Amidst all this hullaballoo, the Nigerian central defender of Al Oruba undoubtedly caught everybody’s attention. He kept Tolgay Ozbey and Edmilson at bay for most of the game and pulled off a number of neat challenges to rob the ball off them.
He looked confident while moving forward with the ball, and occasionally played diagonal balls behind the opponent full-backs to give his wingers a chance to run forward.
Alao is a member of the rare breed of central defenders who take spot-kicks for their sides. He converted two penalties in his side’s AFC Cup sojourn in 2012, one against East Bengal on said day and another against Kazma Sporting Club.
“We couldn’t have scored even if the match had continued till 9 p.m,” said the East Bengal gaffer after the match where the last whistle was blown at 4:30 p.m.
While this remark by the former East Bengal coach was a sarcastic remark intended at the referee, Alao’s heroics also played a large part to keep the three strikers of East Bengal quiet.
Alao will be replacing his compatriot Echezona Anyichie as the leader of the defense with the latter being released by the club after two seasons in the Green and Maroon jersey.
Aiborlang Khongjee and Rowilson Rodrigues have also parted ways with the side and that leaves Mohun Bagan with only Kingshuk Debnath, Johny Routh and Shouvik Ghosh amongst the centre-backs. It remains to be seen whether the Green and Maroon officials bring in another foreign defender to copy the Bengaluru FC model.
The Mohun Bagan supporters, meanwhile will hope that their new signing can repeat his heroics against East Bengal on 31st August, when the two clubs will face-off for the first time this season.