A game with intent, drama, excitement and a lot of chances. Sadly, it missed the elusive goal. . .
I-League heavyweights Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru played out a competitive 0-0 draw that had everything. The Mariners had a man sent off and a goal ruled out as tempers flared and chances were aplenty.
Both teams needed a win for very different reasons heading into this game. Mohun Bagan needed the 3 points to keep up in the title race while Roca’s men had to build on the momentum they gained from 2 tricky away trips to Minerva and Chennai. The Spaniard decided to give utility player Harmanjot Khabra a break and he started from the bench with Sandesh Jhingan taking his place at right back. CK Vineeth was dropped in favour of Daniel Lalhlimpuia alongwith new signing Marjan Jugovic
Sanjoy Sen went with a progressive 4-4-2 which became a 4-3-3 during attacking phases with Katsumi Yusa playing a wide right and right inside forward role. Haitian Sony Norde was at his customary place on the left while Daryl Duffey and Balwant Singh played off each other.
It took both teams some time to get a read on each other’s systems. Bengaluru were the hungrier of the two teams in the initial minutes as tackles went flying in and every player looked to press their opponents off the ball more than the previous games with Lenny Rodrigues finding himself in much more advanced positions.
The Mariners were happy to sit back and let their opponents rack up the possession stats but it was the Kolkatans who created the game’s first real chance when Duffy’s curler was saved expertly by Blues custodian Arindam Bhattacharya.
The Blues adopted a more direct approach than previous games with Eugeneson and Chhetri trying to rekindle their effective partnership of old. But the visitors were the only team working the goalkeeper as Arindam saved from point blank range from Balwant’s close range header. Both the Bengaluru full backs had their hands full with Norde and Yusa troubling Jhingan and Nishu. The left back was at times guilty of pulling Yusa back as he struggled with the Japanese’s trickery.
Roca’s men eventually found a shot on target as Eugeneson’s side foot shot flew past Shilton Paul’s goal shortly before half time to head into the break with the deadlock yet to be broken.
The second half started off on a positive note for the home side as Eugeneson’s free kick was cleared in the face of goal and hacked away by the Bagan defence. Bengaluru found plenty of space down the right-hand side with Johnson’s driving runs forward were effective in starting moves.The Blues were on the ascendancy as Daniel’s trickery saw him get past his marker but Anas’ block prevented from getting his shot away.
Roca opted for a change in the 63rd minute with Salam Ranjan Singh replacing the ineffective Nishu Kumar and Juanan moving to left back. CK Vineeth made his way into the fray as Roca opted for height to complement the dribbling of Daniel. The game’s turning point, however, happened in the 70th minute as U-22 international Subhashish Bose received his marching orders after he protested against the referee.
Sen brought on midfielder Prabir Das for Darryl Duffy to reduce the effect of his side’s numerical disadvantage. The Blues began to turn on the heat as Daniel’s smart turn and lay off for Chhetri saw the captain’s shot smash the side netting. Roca played his final throw of the dice bringing on Marjan Jugovic for Eugeneson as the Serb moved to a central striker’s role with Vineeth and Udanta flanking him with Chhetri playing off the front 3.
The match had its bigger share of controversy in the 84th minute as Norde’s free kick was met with a solid header to end up in the back of the net but the assistant referee ruled the goal out as he felt that there was an incident of handball.
The Mariners survived a late assault from the home side as Roca’s men threw bodies forward in search of the 3 points. However, Roca’s men were unable to break the Kolkatan’s defensive structure and had to settle for a draw.
Man of the Match: Arindam Bhattacharya