Two magical goals in a span of eight minutes, first by Sony Norde (36′), and then by youngster, Azharuddin Mallick (43′) were enough for a dominant Mohun Bagan AC to beat arch-rivals East Bengal Club 2-1 in a crucial Hero I-League encounter at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Sunday (April 8, 2017).
The result elevated Mohun Bagan to 29 points from 14 matches and a victory each in their remaining 4 matches will hand Bagan their second Hero I-League title in three years. East Bengal, meanwhile, stayed on 27 points from 15 matches. East Bengal’s goal was also a magical one, a left-footed volley punched in by Rowllin Borges (90’+2′) in added time of the second half.
Bagan’s first goal came in the 35th minute. A clinical Sony Norde free-kick curled over the wall and dipped viciously to beat a diving East Bengal Goalkeeper TP Reheneesh. It was complemented by Bagan’s U-22 Player Azharuddin Mallick in the 43rd. Mallick’s right-footer curled over Reheneesh who was hopelessly out of position hit the crosspiece and rolled into the net.
Apart from the volley from Borges, Bagan appeared the better of the two sides all throughout and could have run away with more goals in the first-half itself.
And as the match advanced, desperation clubbed with frustration reduced East Bengal to 10-men in the 66th minute when Willis Deon Plaza was given marching orders for an off the ball offence on Bagan defender Anas Etathodika.
Bagan began with much intent in the first-half and it was on display from the first minute itself. The first shot was unleashed within the first 60 seconds — Yusa Katsumi and Darryl Duffy playing a one-two to outwit the East Bengal defence but Duffy’s effort went wide.
A couple of minutes later, Balwant Singh failed to capitalise when he found himself in a favourable position, in the clear. But his decision of preferring to go left instead of running straight allowed Ivan Bukenya to close him down.
Red & Golds earned the first corner of the match in the 7th minute but first Avinash Ruidas’ corner, and then Captain Robert Lalthamuana’s floater didn’t create any danger.
Off the counter, Mohun Bagan earned their first corner but Eduardo headed Norde’s corner over the bar.
It was in the 18th minute that Raju Gaikwad was flashed the yellow card of the match for pulling Romeo Fernandes from the back after he was beaten by speed.
Mohun Bagan earned a free-kick from a favourable position in the 22nd minute when U-22 player Mallick was pulled down by veteran Mehtab Hossain just outside the box. It, however, didn’t yield anything as Norde’s free-kick hit the wall and was cleared.
Sony tried to make amends in the 29th minute when his solo run to beat three but he preferred to take a shot directly instead of trying to find his teammates positioned in better positions and shot over the bar.
The very next minute, Balwant chested it but his left-footer of a half-turn went wide.
The moment of magic came in the next minute – Norde’s free-kick from outside the box bulging the net beating a diving Reheneesh.
The goal forced East Bengal Coach Trevor Morgan to come in with the first replacement almost immediately — Christopher Payne coming in for East Bengal’s U-22 player Avinash Ruidas.
The goal seemed to have an effect on the East Bengal defence and Norde could have doubled the lead in the 43rd minute but he failed to tap it in after his shot had rebounded off Reheneesh.
It didn’t matter much as Mallick made it 2-0 the very next moment. Things could have gone drastically wrong for East Bengal the very next minute but Duffy, despite being in a favourable position failed to slot it home.
Changing over, Mohun Bagan Goalkeeper Debjit Majumdar dived to his left to gather an Anselme header off a corner. That was one of the rare occasions when Majumdar was troubled by the red and gold.
Bagan made their first substitution in the 53rd minute when Prabir Das replaced Gaikwad.
East Bengal suffered a jolt when they were reduced to ten men in the 66th minute – Plaza losing his cool and committing an off the ball offence on Anas.
East Bengal didn’t seem to learn from Plaza’s act as first Gurwinder Singh (71st) and then Payne (71st) were booked by the referee. In between, Majumdar palmed away Payne’s free-kick.
Bagan Coach Sanjoy Sen brought in Jeje Lalpekhlua for Mallick in the 79th minute and then East Bengal Coach Trevor Morgan brought in Jackichand Singh in place of Romeo.
East Bengal had a chance in the 88th minute when they earned a free-kick a yard outside the 18-yard box but Wedson’s free-kick hit the wall and rolled out for a corner.
Bagan made their last replacement in added time – this time Shouvik Chakraborty coming in for Balwant Singh.
There was still a magic left in the match and Borges’ volley would have made the headlines on any other day. But it came way too late.
(Report & Photo courtesy: I-League Media)