BY ATANU MITRA (@Atanu00 on Twitter)
Gley Yao Rodrigue would never know how he made a comeback to the collective memory of Bengali football fans, 12 years after leaving the city. The striker hailing from Togo had grabbed headlines in his first match for Mohun Bagan, scoring the only goal in the club’s 1-0 victory against East Bengal on 18th August, 2005 in what is considered to be the best debut performance in the derby over the last three decades.
After Mohun Bagan's 1-0 win on Sunday , he has competition from a Japanese midfielder. Yuta Kinowaki, who played his first match in Mohun Bagan colours on Friday, not only lit up the grand stage with his composure but also overshadowed the two battles he was fighting – one for himself and one for his coach.
Over the last few days, Sanjoy Sen had been grilled by the fans and media alike for his decision to release the ever-dependable Yusa Katsumi and for recruiting Diego Ferreira and Yuta. While Diego’s signing has backfired with the Australian struggling to find his feet at the club, Yuta answered many critics on behalf of his coach, playing much deeper compared to his usual number 8 role. The previews of the derby invariably talked about the threat that Mahmoud Al-Amna could pose, but Yuta not only annulled his impact, but also rattled the opposition’s plans that revolved around its midfield general.
The Tokyo TV journalist, who is in Kolkata for the last few days to shoot a documentary on Katsumi, may end up giving some space to his compatriot as well!
On a sunny afternoon, where the local police expectedly played the role of a spoilsport before the match, almost 65,000 people finally strolled into the renovated colosseum to witness the city’s biggest sporting affair.
East Bengal started in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Armand Bazou as the pivot and Willis Plaza upfront. They were unusually narrow though, with Brandon rarely running down the flanks while the full-backs added little value in overlaps. In the overcrowded midfield, Katsumi and Al Amna found little space to maneuver their moves and played into Sanjoy Sen’s hands, whose safety-first approach saw Bagan pounce for counter-attacks in the early stage.
Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, lined up in an orthodox 4-4-1-1 with Kromah playing in the hole behind Dicka, who looked far from his usual self and was mostly static.
Half-chances, though, came in the way of both teams. The start, like most other derbies, was scrappy, but with time, the Green and Maroons grew into the game. Luis Barreto, considered to be the weak-link in Jamil’s side, pulled off a brilliant save from a Sony Norde corner-kick, while Plaza failed to connect a pin-point cross by Chullova at the other end.
The goal in the 39th minute came from an unlikely source. East Bengal had conceded twice from set-pieces in the last match and it turned out to be their nemesis again as the defence was caught napping by a low delivery by Sony while Eze Kingsley – Khalid’s trusted lieutenant last season – nodded it home.
Questions, hence, will be raised about Khalid Jamil’s defensive organization. While Sanjoy Sen was not in the dug-out during the Calcutta Football League (CFL), Khalid had the chance to work with his defenders and fix his back-four well in advance for the I-League.
On that aspect, he has failed miserably. Mehtab Singh, who mainly played as a central defender for the East Bengal U-19 side, was handed another start at right-back after a shaky outing against Aizawl FC. He was reckless from the word go, making tackles high up on the pitch while offering little on the attacking front. He was soon replaced by Chullova, which wasted one substitution of the Red and Golds.
The less said about Deepak Singh, the left-back, the better. Probably he was overwhelmed by the occasion, and let his team down with poor decision-making throughout the 90 minutes. With Al Amna and Katsumi finding it claustrophobic and Brandon-Danmawia creating few chances, Plaza became isolated.
A change to 4-4-2 after the break did little good as Charles was also off-colour while Kromah found space in front of the East Bengal box with Bazou taken off. Plaza got a golden chance to equalize in the 74th minute, when he went one-on-one with Shilton Paul, but waited for hours to take the shot as the custodian gathered it.
The two sides took 40 shots in total, of which only seven were on-target, epitomizing how players preferred pulling the trigger from distance tentatively rather than creating clear-cut chances. Mohun Bagan were very confident at the back and Kingsley’s influence increased as the game wore on. The Nigerian rarely took a step wrong while Kinshuk, Shilton and Arijit were also pretty solid.
A major allegation levelled against Sanjoy Sen is that he doesn’t end up winning games which they are expected to clinch three points from. They often let go of their one goal leads by being extra defensive in the final minutes, as was seen again in their last match against Minerva Punjab.
If the Maidan rumours are to be believed, his relationship with the club management has also become strained in the last few months. Sunday’s win will give him breathing space and holding on to the lead for 50 minutes will silence critics for now.
For Jamil, this will be the end of the honeymoon period and he may have to explain his decision of retaining Plaza after consistent failures.
Ahead of their next games, both the coaches will have to look after the many shortcomings of the teams. But one thing for sure, the I-League will not be a two-horse race between them, as was being predicted initially.