Mumbai FC showed no signs of the disadvantage of having to play without coach Khalid Jamil, who is serving a four-match ban imposed by the AIFF. Despite the handicap, the Mumbai club showed that they are made of sterner stuff as they produced a valiant display to share honours with East Bengal Club and earn a creditable 1-1 draw from their 17th Round I-League match at the Saltlake Stadium, Kolkata on Saturday afternoon.
Manager Henry Picardo, who took charge of the team, will undoubtedly be the most pleased man as he had stated on the eve of the match that he would play for a draw. The players did not disappoint Picardo and gave a solid performance to take the fight to the fancied and more formidable home side, who were on a roll having tasted successes in the last three outings, including an AFC Cup match last week.
The Mumbai FC defenders, centre backs Chika Wali and Justine Stephen who returned after recovering from a stomach problem, the wing backs Ashutosh Mehta and Rahul Bheke rallied well among themselves to keep in check the East Bengal attacking duo of Nigerians Ranty Martins Soleye and Dudu Omagbeni and restrict them to just one goal. Goalkeeper Nidhinlal AC, who also regained his position under the bar, also did well. His best effort was when he guessed correctly by diving to his right to save Ranty Martins penalty in the 71st minute and deny the home side a win.
After the initial period hardly saw any exciting moments, the Mumbai side scored the opening goal, when their Brazilian striker Josimar successfully converted a penalty in the 33rd minute. Mumbai FC were awarded a penalty when Harmonjit Singh Khabra handled the ball following Justine Stephen’s header off a Climax Lawrence freekick. The East Bengal players disputed the decision but the referee stuck to his decision and Josimar coolly converted to the top corner.
Thereafter, the home side worked harder and tried to find the equaliser which eluded them till the end of the first half. East Bengal from the start of the second period continued to put pressure on the Mumbai defence and they found success when Dudu showed good anticipation to charge forward and firmly head home Robert Lalthlamuana’s free-kick in the 56th minute to level the scoreline.
The Kolkata side continued to attack and earned a penalty in the 71st minute but Ranty Martins, the leading goalscorer in the I-League with 14 goals so far this season, was unable to beat Mumbai FC goalkeeper Nidhinlal.
The well-deserved point earned has taken Mumbai FC points tally to 14 points and up to 7th place, while East Bengal stay in fifth place with 20 points.