Mohun Bagan it seems is set to break all records this year as they are now in top of the I league table after winning their 9th consecutive match. Today they beat Sporting Clube de Goa in their home match by 1-0, goal being scored by Baichung Bhutia in 76th minute. Mohun Bagan had already created record by winning 7 matches in a trot, now they improved their record by winning their 9th match in a row.
Mohun Bagan lineup was the same as of last match against Air India and started the match in a positive note with Marcos giving a pass to Ishfaq who ran down the flank and delivering a cross which was a little wayward and James could not reach the ball. Sporting coach had said before the match that he will not man-mark either Barreto or Baichung but in reality we saw the opposite. We saw Sporting players continuously marking Barreto and oftentimes bringing him down. In the course of the match, three players of Sporting de Goa was booked for infringement. Sporting coach admitted after match that his main tactics was to cut the supply line of Mohun Bagan by marking Marcos and also not giving any free space to Barreto. In a way, they were slightly successful in doing so in first half but in 2nd half this did not work and Mohun Bagan got many chances to score. Barreto played exceptionally well with 1-2 Sporting players constantly marking him. Regarding tactics of Sporting, Kareem said, "Yes they were marking Marcos and so I asked him to stay more in opponent half, so that he can take one player away from Sporting’s attack as in first half they sacrificed one of their strikers who were busy with Marcos. I asked Rakesh to play from deep as Marcos was mostly in opponent half."
Coming back to the match, Wilton Gomes was shown yellow card within 5 minutes for foul on Barreto. In the next minute, Sporting made a nice move when Viviano got the ball at the edge of the box but his shot went over cross bar. In 15th minute, Mohun Bagan got the first chance when from a James center, Baichung headed the ball which Sporting defence failed to clear and Barreto suddenly got a loose ball and he promptly took a left footed shot which just grazed the post and stayed out. Sporting then dominated the match for about 15 minutes or so, Rakesh Masih and James Singh looked slightly off colored today. In this period, Sporting was easily moving the ball with not much resistance from Bagan midfield but defenders played well and averted danger time and again. In between, Nathaniel took a superb shot from about 25 yards out which Sangram dived to his left and made a great save. Mohun Bagan came back strongly and from a Marcos free kick, Masih almost scored but his head went over cross bar. In first half, Sporting were also successful in cutting down attacks of Mohun Bagan via both flanks as we did not see much of Ishfaq’s solo run. Just at the fag end of the half, referee made two controversial decisions. First time, Baichung headed the ball from James free kick which hit post and goalkeeper brought the back to play from inside goal, both referee and linesman overlooked the incident. Television replay clearly showed that the ball had gone in. In the very next minute, Odafe lobbed the ball towards Sporting goal and the latter’s defence went up to trap Barreto offside but Baichung, who was not in offside position, ran for the ball and got the ball in open but unfortunately linesman ruled him out offside. Certainly Barreto was offside but Baichung was not. The first half ended goalless with both teams playing well. Sporting really gave Mohun Bagan a run for their money in this half and fought nicely. Another thing which worked slightly in favor of Mohun Bagan was substitution of Luciano who had to be replaced by Micky Fernandes due to injury.
In 2nd half, Mohun Bagan was again unlucky this time as in 1st minute off a long throw from Odafe, the ball hit hand of a Sporting player but referee did not give penalty as he thought it might have been done unintentionally. In 55th minute, Mohun Bagan made a great move via Marcos and Barreto who played couple of passes amongst each other and final pass was given by Barreto to Marcos whose shot deflected for corner from close range. James Singh continued his poor form in 2nd half also and then Kareem made a double change within space of 5 minutes bringing on Lalkamal and Tulunga in place of Rakesh Masih and James Singh. This worked wonders for Mariners as within minutes, Barreto was involved in the best move of the match when he got the ball in midfield with 3 players surrounding him, he nicely dribbled the ball past all of them, shielded the ball nicely and delivered a inch-perfect cross for Baichung who could not head the ball properly. Junior then made a solo effort midway in the half when he took a blistering shot from outside box which Sangram again stretched himself to make another great save. Mohun Bagan was unlucky not to score in 74th minute when from a long throw of Odafe, Marcos back headed the ball and Habibur further deflected the ball off his head which hit crossbar and went straight to Baichung whose head was saved from goalline by Felip. Baichung, however, scored a brilliant goal within a couple of minutes. Lalkamal took a corner which was headed by Odafe in far corner, Barreto tried a bicycle kick but could not connect the ball properly, Baichung who was standing facing his own goal, suddenly turned almost 180 degrees and took a left footed shot which surprised Sporting goalie and went to the back of the net making it 1-0 in favor of Mariners. A great finish indeed from Mohun Bagan captain. Sporting pressed hard for goal in the last stages of the match and On one occasion Junior got a loose ball in box but his side volley went over crossbar. Odafe also made a mistake when he could not head the ball properly and the ballooned up and went straight to Sporting player inside Bagan box but his volley went out harmlessly. Mohun bagan finished the match winning 1-0. Overall the match was a keenly fought match with Sporting de Goa giving a great fight but at the end Mohun Bagan emerged winners and continued their golden run by registering their 9th successive win in this I-league. They now have 30 points from 14 matches and are leading the group table. Sporting de Goa are in 2nd position with 28 points from 13 matches. Baichung was adjudged Man of the Match.
After the match, Sporting coach said, "We were unlucky but Mohun Bagan played well. I am not satisfied with refereeing, especially in 2nd half. He did not allow us to move, everytime he was blowing whistle against us. Mohun Bagan did not play that well like their last few matches, they were mainly relying on long balls, it reminded me of Kolkata team’s performance say a decade back when their style were mainly via long ball." When asked whether Baichung’s head had gone in, he said, "I was far away from the scene and did not see it properly", though surprisingly the incident happened in the half where Sporting reserve bench players were sitting. He still hopes of a comeback when he said, "There are still 7 matches left and we will have to play well to keep ourselves in the title race. Right now, Mohun Bagan, Sporting de Goa and Churchill are favorites to win the tournament but other teams can also bounce back soon."
Kareem looked a little relaxed when he said, "Before the match I had said to you all that this is not the match that will decide who will win I league because of 2 reasons. (1) I knew this match was very important for us, but being a coach my job is to take pressure away from players and I knew if I would have said otherwise, it would have created immense pressure on players by press and supporters. (2) Indeed I believe that though this match was important but not THE important match as now we have still 7 matches left and we will have to continue with the winning streak. I am happy that at least now we don’t have to look to other teams for losing points, now ball is in our court. If we win all the matches, we will be champions, no matter who loses or wins other matches. But still we have long way to go, it is like we have to still climb few more mountains and the trophy is hiding behind some mountain (laughing)." He added that he is very much satisfied with his defence and said for a team to win a trophy not only scoring goals but it is also very important that the team should not concede more goals. "You can see in major leagues throughout the world, it is not always the teams who score more goals wins the tournament but it is the team who wins by conceding less number of goals takes the trophy. In the last 6 matches, we have conceded just 3 goals. Just scoring 1 or 2 goals is not important. I know we will score goals but most important factor is not letting in goals", he said. Kareem also praised his players’ commitment and admitted that wing play was not that good in this match, "Yes, delivery from the flanks were not up to mark today. I had a talk with James regarding this after match. It was just a off day for him. I am sure he will come back strongly. Both Lalkamal and Tulunga had a great game after they came as substitute, not taking anything away from Rakesh or James. I am very happy with overall spirit of the team. Deepak was complaining of pain in his knee in half time but he still wanted to play and played the full 90 minutes. Such is the commitment of Mohun Bagan players."
Mariners will get the weekend rest and on Monday there will be practice in morning as well as afternoon. In the morning, full team will practice but in the afternoon only the reserve bench players will be seen in action. On Tuesday, Mohun Bagan will play a practice match against George Telegraph where most of the first team players will not play and the match will be important for players who are recovering from injury like Vashan, Branco, Lalampuia. Kareem will assess their match fitness from this match.
TEAM: Sangram, Dipak, Odafe, Manju, Habibur, Ishfaq, Rakesh (Lalkamal 65′), Marcos, James Singh Sr. (Tulunga 60′), Barreto, Baichung (Lalramluaha 93′).
PICTURE COURTESY: ARNAB DEY