Chennai City were allowed by Mohun Bagan to battle their way back and salvage a draw in the I-League clash between them on Saturday, thus continue their unbeaten start to the season. Taking off Omar El Huseinny to bring on Shilton D'Silva changed the complexion of the match and tilted the game in Chennai's favour. Within five minutes of the substitution, Nestor Gordillo latched onto a hopeful long ball from Roberto Eslava and produced a peach of a finish to equalise.
If it was not for the woodwork then Bagan could have succumbed to consecutive defeats at home. During the last 15 minutes, Sandro Rodriguez hit the post twice and on both occasions goalkeeper Sankar Roy remained rooted to the spot.
Bagan went on to finish the game with three defensive midfielders and five defenders and coach Sankar Lal Chakraborty opined that his team was trying to play 'balanced football.'
"Chennai had so many variations in their game that we had to play a balanced football. When we scored in the 50th minute then we tried to hold on to the lead. But naturally, when the opponent gets an equaliser they get rejuvenated and attack more.
"We were not at all defensive. I did not ask my boys to defend with 9 men. But when the opponent is increasing bodies (in attack) you have to track back and defend," reasoned the coach in the post-match press conference.
In the 75th minute when a coach brings on a defensive midfielder sacrificing his number 10 the indication is clear that he wants to shut shop and defend the slender 1-0 lead. But was it necessary to bring the change?
Mohun Bagan were the dominant side for the lion's share of the match as they looked fluent in the transition from defence to attack. It was clear that the side had put the 3-0 thrashing by Churchill Brothers to the back of their minds as they took on the league leaders head-on. If cohesion and conviction oozed from Bagan's display in the first 70 minutes then after the substitution they were fearful and tepid which allowed Chennai City to take the match by the scruff of its neck.
Moreover, it made little sense to deploy Amey Ranawade in the right wing in a like-for-like substitution for an injured Pintu Mahata. Ranawade is a right back who has hardly looked convincing on his overlapping runs. It was also not a case of lack of options on the bench that forced Chakraborty to put an inexperienced player in an unnatural position as Azharuddin Mallick was available at his disposal. In the 77th minute, Ranawade showed his incapability to fill in the shoes of a winger as he shot wide of the target from close range even with the entire goal at his mercy.
"At the academy level Ranawade played as a winger. I needed someone who can run fast to stop their left back. So I thought he would do the job for us," explained Chakraborty after the match.
Over-dependence on Sony Norde
Sony Norde had an off-day in office against Churchill Brothers and Bagan looked toothless in attack. He was back in form against Chennai and the Mariners were calling the shots in the attacking third. He was the livewire for Mohun Bagan and every time the Haitian cut inside from the left flank, there were tremors in Chennai's defence. Edwin Vanspaul and Gourav Bora had a nightmarish outing as Norde frequently got the better of the duo. For his goal, he was allowed space to shoot by both defenders and the Haitian curled his shot beyond the reach of Nauzet Santana.
While it is a convenient option to rely on the winger, they must also look to use Henry Kisekka more effectively and frequently. The fact that the striker did not attempt a single shot on goal speak volume about his role in Saturday's match. Variation is the key in a long league and a lot needs to be done on that front.
The Maroon and Green brigade have a long layoff before they return to action in the much anticipated Kolkata Derby. There are multiple compelling evidence which indicate that Bagan are yet to hit top gear and we are already done with a third of the fixtures. Games will come thick and fast after this two-week break and Chakraborty will have little time to go back to the drawing board. All eyes will be on the coach on December 16 as the Kolkata derby will be an acid test for Chakraborty.