BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
When the second-half of the second semi-final of the Super Cup kicked off, Mohun Bagan supporters were gleefully eyeing a Kolkata derby in the final. East Bengal were already through after edging past FC Goa a few days ago and the odds were stacked in favour of the Kolkata-based outfit against Bengaluru FC after 50 minutes of football.
The Mariners were leading by a goal at half-time and five minutes into the second-half, Nishu Kumar picked up a red card for his last-man foul on Nikhil Kadam. Down to ten men and trailing by a goal against a top team, Bengaluru FC had their backs against the wall. But what followed was a show of character from Roca's men and a show of capitulation from Sankarlal's men.
A 10-man Bengaluru won the match 4-2. Yes, you read that right. While Bengaluru deserves immense credit for their fightback in the second-half, Mohun Bagan players should hang their heads in shame.
Albert Roca continued his habit of tweaking his side's formation and strategy for a big game. The plan failed in the Indian Super League (ISL) final and did not work out in the first-half against Mohun Bagan. Their shift to 4-4-2 allowed Mohun Bagan to take control of the game and when Aser Dipanda broke the deadlock a few minutes before the half-time whistle, it seemed like Bagan had the match under control.
Roca shifted to a back-three in the second half, a formation that the players also seemed more comfortable with. A change of personnel was also deemed imminent and Khabra was replaced by Toni Dovale. But it wouldn't be right to say that what followed was due to the tactical changes made by the coach.
As Roca rightly said after the game, great character and talent helped Bengaluru ease their way back into the contest. "It happens in football - team thinks that everything is gone and we have nothing to lose. Let's go ahead. We have shown great character and talent. These two things combined to get us a good win."
The lethal duo of Miku and Sunil Chhetri took control of Mohun Bagan's defensive third. And the captain of the Mariners, Kinshuk Debnath, once again turned out to be the antagonist at the back.
Miku led from the front and was denied a clear penalty near the byline inside the box at the hour-mark. The striker's footwork was too much for the out-of-form centreback to deal with and the former was brought down. The referee waved play on but the Venezuelan, instead of sarcastically showing a VAR signal, offered just a harmless smirk and went on to score a hat-trick.
The former Getafe forward sneaked into the box and slotted Udanta's cross from the right flank into the net to bring Bengaluru level a few minutes later the penalty incident. If Bagan's defending was poor for the equaliser, it was non-existent for Bengaluru's second.
Miku was fouled just outside the box by Kingsley and as the striker walked into the box, Toni Dovale took advantage of a backline that went to sleep with a quick free-kick that was converted by Miku to make it 2-1.
Bengaluru steadily took control of the game and it was as if Nishu Kumar was never sent off. Cameron Watson had Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak all over him in midfield and Yuto Kinowaki cut an ineffective figure. The defenders had no screen in front of them and on their own, they were incredibly poor.
A shell-shocked Sankarlal Chakraborty was running out of options and when Akram Moghrabi had to be replaced due to a hamstring injury, his solution was to bring on defender Rana Gharami and throw Kingsley Eze up front. Within minutes of his arrival, Gharami launched into a brain-dead tackle inside the box to fell Udanta and allow Miku to complete a scintillating hat-trick.
The second-half turned out to be a feast for Bengaluru but what's a feast without dessert? Sunil Chhetri answered the call and curled a good strike into the top corner of the net. Mohun Bagan's Super Cup final hopes went crashing down as Chhetri's shot flew into the top corner.