Bengaluru FC’s dream start in their debut I-League campaign came to an end at the weekend as they were beaten 2-0 by East Bengal in Kalyani. The Bengaluru club came into this fixture on the back of a five-game unbeaten run while East Bengal had suffered back-to-back defeats.
However this was Bengaluru’s first away game and they failed to adapt to the heavy ground conditions. The incessant rains made the natural surface of Kalyani slippery and thus didn’t allow Bengaluru to play their free-flowing passing game, which had been a key attribute of their performances in those home fixtures.
The conditions completely suited East Bengal but they still needed to produce a performance and bounce back from the disappointments against Dempo and Kuwait SC. The red-and-gold brigade looked hungrier and were more threatening going forward as they used the physical presence of strikers Edeh Chidi and James Moga to the fullest.
Midfielders Cavin Lobo and Mehtab Hossain also had strong outings with the former hitting the woodwork when the score was 0-0. The deadlock was eventually broken by former East Bengal player Robin Singh who inadvertently scored an own goal. Bengaluru threw everything at East Bengal in the final quarter of the game but despite the problems of goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal, the Kolkata giants managed to keep a clean sheet with Moga sealing the points late on by netting the second.
The result and performance showed that Bengaluru have plenty of hard work ahead while the strength in depth in East Bengal’s squad was evident again as despite the absence of their regular centre-backs, the AFC Cup semi-finalists still looked solid at the back as Marcos Falopa used a couple of India internationals in Raju Gaikwad and Gurwinder Singh as the replacements
There were wins for two other Kolkata giants as well with Mohun Bagan recording their second-straight victory by beating Mumbai FC while Mohammedan Sporting also registered back-to-back away wins as they got the better of Sporting Clube in Goa.
Salgaocar also managed a notable win on their travels as they defeated United SC 2-0 in Kalyani although the league’s top scorer Darryl Duffy failed to score for the first time this season. The result saw the Goan club return to the top of the table as Pune FC could only beat rock-bottom Rangdajied United by a solitary goal, which was scored by Englishman Calum Angus.
The round concluded with an entertaining draw between Shillong Lajong and Churchill Brothers on Monday evening.
East Bengal 2-0 Bengaluru FC; Mumbai FC 0-1 Mohun Bagan; Sporting Clube 1-3 Mohammedan Sporting; United SC 0-2 Salgaocar; Pune FC 1-0 Rangdajied United; Shillong Lajong 2-2 Churchill Brothers
Game of the round
Shillong Lajong 2-2 Churchill Brothers
With both sides missing their star strikers – Shillong Lajong without Cornell Glen and Churchill Brothers without Henri Antchouet – this had the makings of a drab encounter. Glen had scored five of Lajong’s eight goals in their first six matches while Antchouet’s lack of form saw Churchill Brothers find the back of the net just once in five matches.
But with both sides desperate for maximum points it eventually turned out to be an open and entertaining contest in front of a crowd of around 10000, not the best turnout by Shillong’s standards but let’s not forget that it was played on a Monday and the attendance was still much better than the average in the Airtel I-League.
Bineesh Balan gave the visitors an early lead but with the backing of their passionate home support, Lajong hit back with goals from India youth international Milan Singh and Brazilian Uilliams Bomfin. It was a brilliant response to the early goal by Lajong and they could have been 3-1 up at the break but Churchill Brothers custodian Arindam Bhattacharya brilliantly denied Bomfin on the stroke of halftime.
Lajong deserved to be ahead at the interval but never looked confident at the back and allowed Churchill Brothers to get back into the match in the second period. The defending I-League champions dominated possession but lacked the cutting edge in the final third with Portuguese Hugo Machado only testing Lajong custodian Vinay Singh from distance.
Machdao looked like the only man who could bring Churchill Brothers level as he kept hitting long rangers and also played some incisive through balls. It looked like the away side had ran out of time until Machado produced a moment of magic from a freekick to score a 90th minute equaliser.
On the balance of play, a draw was possibly a fair result but it didn’t help either team’s cause as Lajong remain winless at home after failing to win five straight matches while Churchill Brothers are yet to win at all this term with three draws from six outings.
Result of the round
Sporting Clube 1-3 Mohammedan Sporting
Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar also recorded notable away wins but Mohammedan Sporting’s 3-1 victory over Sporting Clube stands out as the newly-promoted Kolkata club look to be finally finding their feet in the top flight.
It is no secret anymore that the Mohammedan Sporting didn’t have much balance and quality in their side at the start of the campaign as besides the four foreigners, they lacked experience and also had too many wide players in the squad.
The signings of the five IMG-Reliance contracted players addressed some of those problems but only increased the pressure on coach Moshood Bola Abdulaziz to deliver the results. An away win over Rangdajied United got them off the mark in round five but a goalless draw against United SC, who played the last quarter of the game with ten men, on matchday six was a setback for Abdulaziz.
Anything less than a win in this game would have increased the uncertainty over his job but an inspired showing from their foreigners, Josimar in particular, saw Abdulaziz guide the Kolkata giants to their second straight away win. Brazilian defender Luciano Sobrosa also produced another solid display and his return to full fitness could see Mohammedan Sporting find some consistency now.
Sporting Clube had come into this game on the back of three straight wins so Mohammedan Sporting were up against it but they rode their luck a bit and took their chances to record three precious points. Some weaknesses were evident in this match also as Mohammedan Sporting never really controlled the game but the whole team will take confidence from their efficiency and look to build on that for the rest of the season.
Foreigner – Josimar (Mohammedan Sporting)
The Brazilian is no stranger to Indian football having had prolific spells at United SC and Salgaocar. While all the attention has been around Penn Orji and Tolgay Ozbey, Josimar has been the club’s most consistent performer with five goals already including the match-winning brace against Sporting Clube in this round.
Indian – Mehtab Hossain (East Bengal)
It was a near vintage display from Mehtab as he negated the threat of Bengaluru’s midfield and made them look ordinary. The India international was tenacious as he broke down Bengaluru’s attacks with well-timed tackles and some occasional fouls. Like so many times in the last few years, the midfield general dictated his team’s play and also protected the back four.
Once again this column involves a Kolkata club with the spotlight being on the refereeing. The incident happened in Kalyani where United SC hosted Salgaocar on Sunday. The home side feel they were robbed of a genuine goal as Eric Brown’s strike from distance was ruled out for interference of play by Ranti Martins who was inside the box in an offside position as the ball went past Salgaocar custodian Karanjit Singh.
United SC claim that Ranti wasn’t in the line of the shot and thus cannot be considered active but the linesman thought otherwise as he flagged for offside. It is one of those decisions that are rarely given these days and United SC have every right to feel hard done by. The incident took place when United SC were 1-0 down in the first period and it deflated their spirits a bit as they never really tested Karanjit after that with Salgaocar scoring again late in the second half to run out 2-0 winners.