It was an action-packed game that featured two penalties and a red card.

Mohun Bagan were held to a 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday, slipping up early in the I-League season. The Mariners played without the services of star foreign players Sony Norde, Ansumane Kromah and Yuta Kinowaki and their inexperience was found out by Lajong, who snatched a vital point from them after getting thrashed by East Bengal at the weekend.

Bagan took the lead in the first half when Aser Dipanda Dicka tucked away a penalty well earned by Sk Faiaz, but Shillong Lajong bounced back in the second period. They earned a penalty for themselves, which captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia calmly put into the back of the net to earn a point for Lajong. The Mariners made it worse for themselves when Kingsley Eze was sent off in the second half, but Sanjoy Sen seemed a relieved man that his rather inexperienced team could get away with a point after that.

The coach of Bagan spoke to the press after the match and was asked about why his team looked in disarray without the services of Norde and Kromah. He replied, “It’s never good for a team to be dependent on 1-2 specific players. I told the players about this before the game. It’s not about who didn’t play, but the bigger thing is that those who played regularly made blunders today.

He added, “Kingsley’s red card was absolutely unnecessary, especially the first yellow card. The way Kingshuk (Debnath) gave away the penalty was poor, and he should learn to stay on his feet! In the end, this almost feels like a defeat itself.”

Sen was then asked whether losing points in a game like this can be harmful in the long run, to which he replied, “Yes, of course, it could be harmful in the long run. But, if you see the past three years, we have never won 3-4 matches on the trot. Everyone underestimated Shillong because of how they lost to East Bengal, but I made my players wary of them. The year we became champions, we drew to Shillong at the Barasat Stadium. So it may seem harmful now, but these kinds of results don’t mean we will suffer.”

He was then asked whether this one point can be crucial for them, to which he replied: “Of course it will be crucial for us. It’s not like we’ve completely fallen off the title race. We are still in the race for the championship because only four matches have taken place. But our main objective is to gain maximum points in the home matches, so considering that, we have lost two points. But that can be overcome if we get 3 points from the away matches.”

He was also a bit critical of star striker Aser Dipanda Dicka, saying, “His only contribution to the game was to score the penalty. He didn’t show any leadership in attack and should’ve done much better on the day.”

Finally, he spoke about whether they have any positives to take from the game. “I think the positive point is that we might not even have gotten one point from the game today. When a team is down to 10 men, the opposition pressurizes them. But, I don’t think they could take the advantage today. So, earning a point from the day is a positive thing for us.”

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Shillong Lajong’s coach Bobby Nongbet seemed a pleased man after getting a crucial point on the day, as he was asked about whether he was satisfied with his team’s performance and said: “Yes, after that 5-1 defeat against East Bengal, this is a blessing for us.”

He was asked about what brought about the change after that disastrous defeat to the Red and Gold and how he reorganized. “Well, it’s because of a lot of work from my support staff. They did a lot of work to keep them together. We had a bad game against East Bengal, and it was equally difficult to get some points against Mohun Bagan because both the teams are very difficult to beat at home.”

Nongbet was quizzed about whether his team was play-acting towards the end to earn a point to which he replied, “We would never act fakely to get anything. Everything that happened on the field was genuine. It all happened in such a way, that we couldn’t pretend differently. We wanted to win the match. Infact, we didn’t stop when we were equal at 1-1 and went for the win.”

He was asked what’s the difference in playing East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. “East Bengal’s pressure in the match that day was a different story because the way they performed that day was very well planned. I understand that their victory was very important.

He continued, “But, the game against Mohun Bagan was a different story, as they were on a winning run and I thought they would relax against us. So, from that point of view, I thought that mindset of underestimation would definitely be in Mohun Bagan’s camp. We stuck to our plan and luckily we got a point out of the game.”