The Red and Gold Brigade’s newfound Spanish influence was there for all to see in their approach to the game.
In front of 65,000-odd fans, East Bengal trounced Mohun Bagan 3-2 in a fiery tactical encounter that saw Alejandro Menendez’s stake in Kolkata rise. The closeness of the scoreline wasn’t reflected in the game, as East Bengal controlled most of the proceedings and dominated the game. Ask a neutral fan and he’d surely say that the Red and Gold Brigade could have scored at least three more goals.
The hosts for the encounter won the game riding on a brace from Laldanmawia Ralte and a special from Jobby Justin, who added another feather to his burgeoning cap. For the visitors, young winger Azharuddin Mallick scored the opener and vice-captain Dipanda Dicka added another. It was more of a tactical victory, with all the goals coming from good, creative build-ups and this derby certainly stood up to its reputation.
Azharuddin Mallick (right) opened the scoring for Mohun Bagan
It surely did for Alejandro Menendez. The Spaniard played a static 4-4-2 in terms of positioning at the first whistle, but his smart message to the ever-so-willing Laldanmawia Ralte to diagonally run into the box at every given opportunity gave East Bengal the upper hand throughout the game. Add to that, the flashes of creativity from debutant Jamie Colado and East Bengal had a game to remember.
In attack, it was simple, basic long-ball football with a willingness to attack space. In Justin and Laldanmawia, captain Lalrindika Ralte found two willing runners and kept spraying balls over the Mohun Bagan midfield. Colado, who was given a free role behind Justin, time and again drifted to the wings, to try and test Arijit Bagui’s defensive concentration.
The first two goals, that almost killed the game, came from similar gameplay. A long ball threaded from over the top was headed on to a teammate, who found an onrushing player. In the first instance, Justin found Laldanmawia in between Abhishek Ambekar and Lalchhawnkima with inch-perfect weight on his grounded pass. Mawia gladly accepted it, turned on to receive and side-placed it. It was the equalizer, but was more of a death knell for Bagan.
Justin, who scored his fifth of the season, was found by a header from the diminutive Laldanmawia, who again showed his willingness to rise higher than his stature in big games. Justin, in time and space at the edge of the six-year box, scored past the helpless Sankar Roy, who replaced club captain Shilton Paul. The third goal was helped by a delightful corner from East Bengal captain Lalrindika Ralte, who found the head of Laldanmawia again, like the rest of the match.
The first attempt was saved, but the second was converted by the tireless winger. Danmawia is a threat Bagan couldn’t avert, as the pocket dynamo damaged a lot of plans for the Mariners, helping himself to some added bragging rights.
Borja Gomez (left) was one of the standout defensive performers for East Bengal
In defense, it was more sensible and static. The two parts were opposites for East Bengal, with fluidity in attack and rigidity in defensive positioning. This helped the centre-back pairing of Johnny Acosta and Borja Gomez, who displayed maturity across the game.
It was more of a loss from Bagan than a win for East Bengal. The Mariners never looked in control, with the absence of Sony Norde already pushing them two steps back. With the red card to mercurial captain Kingsley Obumneme, there was no coming back for Sankarlal Chakraborty and his players, who did well to shoot their way to 3-2. But, that wasn’t enough, as it stood at the final whistle.
A win that will smear the Kolkata air, at least for some time to come.