I-League 2018-19: Sony Norde brilliance cannot hide Mohun Bagan's profligacy

Inability to hold onto a lead has cost the Mariners on more than a few occasions in the recent past...

It was exactly the 69th minute of the game between Mohun Bagan and Bharat FC on 11 April 2015 when Sony Norde last scored an I-League goal at the Vivekananda Yuvabharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium) until Saturday.

3 years, 6 months, 23 days, an I-League title, a Federation Cup winner's medal, a career-threatening injury later, the Haitian winger scored again - exactly in the 69th minute against Aizawl FC. But it wasn't enough to see his team through for their first win of the campaign, was it?

Mohun Bagan, who dropped points in the opening weekend at Gokulam Kerala, did not learn from their mistakes. It was the visitors Aizawl that drew first blood with striker Lalkhawpui 'Mapuia' Mawia catching fullback Arijit Bagui out. Picking up the ball from Albert Zohmingmawia's pass, Mapuia was given plenty of space and the 26-year-old did not disappoint from range.

30 minutes in, Mohun Bagan were trailing and deservedly so. Aser Dipanda had squandered a chance from a set-piece and then scored a goal which was deemed offside.

Sankar Lal Chakraborty panicked and ruffled up things by bringing in Sourav Das right after the goal. That meant Elhusseiny would shift to the flanks which brought down the pace quotient on the wing by quite some notches.

Bagan did strive hard to get the equaliser before the half-time whistle through the unlikeliest of sources in centre back Lalchhawnkima.

"We were unlucky. Kareem (Omolaja) had an injury and I had to change a player. Before that, the plan we had was different. They played well. In the second half, they dominated us," Aizawl coach Gift Raikhan assessment was spot on.

With the big physical presence at the back missing for Aizawl, Bagan had the license to go all out. Sony Norde, who was supposed to get only 15-20 minutes of action was brought in early with Chakraborty realising his move to play Elhusseiny on the wing proved to be of no strategic value. 

Sony Norde Mohun Bagan Aizawl FC I-League 2018-19

Norde had his usual groove on, plying from the same end of the field where he last touched a ball before being stretchered off on 19 December 2017 against NEROCA FC, coincidentally coached by Gift Raikhan at that time.

It hardly looked as if he had not played a competitive game in ten and a half months. Eight minutes in, the 29-year-old had embarked on his trademark run on the left, cut into the box and took a right-footed shot that nestled past Gurpreet Singh Chabhal, triggering the gathered 15000-odd Mariners' faithful to rise up from their seats and scream in unison.

The ecstasy ended right there. Mohun Bagan fans had been witness to some lame finishing from their forwards in the final third. Case in point Henry Kisseka.

The Ugandan never seemed to know where the back of the net was on the night. Bagan relied on delivering crosses aimed at Kisseka from the flanks but he could not convert any of them. 

While Aser Dipanda put in immense work-rate, there is no way he should be excused for not putting in the simplest of opportunities to bed; given he has a reputation to maintain - I-League Golden Boot winner for the last two seasons in a row.
Chakraborty later said, "This is a lesson learnt. If you waste so many chances in the game, it can bite you back." Bite back it did.

Mohun Bagan Aizawl FC I-League 2018-19

Into the penultimate minute of stoppage time, David Lalrinmuana, who was brought in after Bagan took the lead, stepped up to take a freekick from around 32 yards out.

"Rinmuana is a master of freekicks. I gave him 15 minutes. I knew he will do something, either hit the back of the net or the post. That is my faith in him," Raikhan said in hindsight.

The 25-year-old produced a freekick of the highest quality, one which regular viewers of the Mizoram Premier League would have been privy to in the past. No Bagan defender nor the goalkeeper could do anything. Rinmuana had robbed Bagan of yet another two points - the club where he first grabbed headlines as a 13-year-old when he scored against Manchester United in the Nike Premier Cup for the Bagan academy team.

Where does this 2-2 draw leave Mohun Bagan? While it would be foolish to say that their title hopes are glimmering out but a quick look at cross-city rivals East Bengal's position on the table will make Mohun Bagan fans a wee bit uneasy.

The Red and Golds have two wins out of two, both away from home as well while Bagan are four points behind but there are still 18 rounds of matches to go.

Sankar Lal Chakraborty's team have been accused of not holding onto a lead many times and this isn't anything new. But, this wouldn't have happened if they converted their chances.

While he acknowledged that he learnt where the mistakes were, it is now time for some action before they travel to Odisha to play the Indian Arrows next weekend.

The fans can in the meantime keep praying that Sony Norde continues to dazzle the I-League in the same manner.