Mohun Bagan beat Chirag Kerala 2-1 at Yuvabharati Krirangan, Calcutta, on Friday, October 28th, to register their second successive win in the 2011-12 i-League. This is the best start by Mohun Bagan in this premier championship for many many years. However, today’s win was hard-earned, and the overall performance was not too satisfactory for the discerning fan, though in the end, a win is a win, and six points after two matches can never be disappointing. More worrying for supporters and management alike was the fact that two of Mohun Bagan’s
best players, Odafa Okolie and Jose Barreto were carried off with injuries in the second half. One can only hope that the injuries are not serious.

After Mohun Bagan’s splendid showing in the second half of the previous game, many were expecting a whirlwind start to today’s match, but they were disappointed. In the first half there were too many mistakes from the Bagan players to really trouble the well-organised Kerala defence, and their goalkeeper was seldom troubled.

Mohun Bagan’s starting line-up showed two changes from the previous day, with Jose Barreto and Murali Joseph replacing Manish Maithani and Gouranga Dutta in midfield. The match began with a lot of midfield action from both sides, though action hardly describes the proceedings. There were plenty of missed passes all over the field, and threatening attacks were few and far between. The first of such sporadic attacks saw Rahim Nabi breaking through from the left of the defence with a fine run in the 4th minute, only to delay his pass and squander the opportunity. Then in the 8th and 10th minutes, Jewel Raja and Sunil Chhetri respectively shot wide from promising positions.

The next ten minutes saw more aimless football from both teams, though once Kerala’s Australian striker Matricciani did break through, only for Anwar Ali and Kingshuk Debnath to save the situation. Then on the 22nd minute Odafa was brought down just outside the Kerala box, but Barreto’s ensuing free-kick went straight into the wall. Two minutes later, Barreto was put through by Chhetri, but was just unable to reach the ball. At the other end, a long throw from Kerala’s left midfielder went right into the heart of Bagan’s box, but Kingshuk kept cool to head clear. At last the tempo of the match was picking up.

A superb through pass from Barreto sent Chhetri racing after the ball in the Kerala box, but the keeper charged out bravely to save the situation. On the half hour, Nabi put Barreto through, but the Brazilian failed to control the ball properly, and the danger was averted. Then Odafa got the ball from the left, sidestepped a defender and unleashed a powerful grounder, only for his shot to go inches wide. Then followed a wonderful attack – Bagan’s best move of the half – which saw Lima, Barreto, Odafa and Chhetri combine for Chhetri to break through into the left corner of the box. However, his cross was just too high for Odafa.

Then a Chirag Kerala break from their right saw a splendid low cross into the Mohun Bagan box, but Sangram Mukherjee was alert to dive and make a superb one-handed intervention to take the ball away from the Kerala strikers and for the defence to clear. Soon afterwards, the half ended goalless.

The second half started with Bagan TD Subrata Bhattacharjee bringing in Asim Biswas in place of Murali. Three minutes later a Kerala attack split open the Bagan defence and Sangram had to rush out to head the ball clear. The ball came to the Kerala right, and a low cross sent in, with Sangram trying desperately to regain position. Vineeth’s diving header went wide, to the great relief of Mohun Bagan. Then on the 5th minute of the second half the Kerala keeper made a horrible mess of collecting a routine ball, and Odafa was on hand to pounce on the ball and guided it home. (1-0). At last the deadlock was broken, and Mohun Bagan were ahead.

Bagan’s joy in getting the lead was somewhat tempered 5 minutes later, when Odafa was taken off on a stretcher with what appeared to be a painful groin injury. He limped back a few minutes later, but was taken off again soon, to be replaced by Rakesh Masih in the 60th minute. Meanwhile Bhattacharjee had already replaced Lima with Gouranga Dutta a couple of minutes earlier, so it meant that with almos a third of the match remaining, Bagan had used all three substitutes.

Bagan’s woes were increased when on the 66th minute a seemingly harmless Kerala attack saw the defenders hesitating to clear the ball, and the ball wobbled around to reach Kerala’s striker Matricciani who tried to chip it over an advancing Sangram. Sangram got a hand to the ball, but his push wasn’t firm enough, and the ball trickled into the net. (1-1). The stadium was stunned! It was a clever little chip from the striker, but Sangram should have done better, one felt. Three minutes earlier Sangram had dived bravely on the feet of a Kerala striker to make an excellent save, and all in all had a good day under the bar, but that one mistake meant that once again Mohun Bagan had conceded what seemed to be a soft goal.

Mohun Bagan tried to reorganise themselves and attacked the Kerala goal with renewed vigour, though without Odafa their task was tough. Barreto took a lot of work load in this period of the game, though blasted a shot well wide in the 73rd minute when he could have done better to pass to some better-placed team-mate. Then on the 80th minute it was Barreto again who tried to wriggle his way through the Kerala defence and was brought down just outside the box. He got up to take the resultant free-kick himself and produced a moment of magic his fans were waiting for. He got the ball over the wall, only for it to dip in the last moment and go into the Kerala net past the left post. The keeper could only watch in dismay! (2-1).

Three minutes later Barreto got injured and had to be carried away. Mohun Bagan had to play with 10 men for the remainder of the match. (Barreto was seen outside the sideline trying to re-enter the field, but TD Bhattacharjee refused to risk him, perhaps keeping in mind thelong campaign ahead.) Chirag Kerala tried hard to take advantage of the situation and attacked with intent for the last few minutes. 5 more minutes were added on, to add to the tension, but Mohun Bagan defended with great courage and a bit of luck to survive that onslaught, though once it required another splendid save from Sangram.

One last corner from Chirag Kerala came to no avail, and the referee blew the long whistle for Mohun Bagan to complete their two wins in two.

Line-up: Sangram Mukherjee (21); R Dhanrajan (6), Kingshuk Debnath (4), Anwar Ali (5), Syed Rahim Nabi (19); Jewel Raja (23), Murali Joseph (7) [Asim Biswas – 46th minute], Jose Barreto (10), Hudson Lima Silva (27) [Gouranga Dutta (30) – 57th minute]; Odafe Okolie (9) [Rakesh Masih (20) – 61st minute], Sunil Chhetri (11).

Goals: Odafe Okolie – 1, Jose Barreto – 1
Man-of-the-Match – Jose Barreto

Picture Courtesy :  Bartaman

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