Pintu Mahata was the Man of the Match for an inspired performance.
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first Kolkata Derby of the season at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. After The Mariners had gone two goals up in the first 30 minutes thanks to goals from Pintu Mahata and Henry Kisekka, the Quess-owned outfit made a comeback through goals from Johnny Acosta and Laldanmawia Ralte. The draw allowed Mohun Bagan to retain their position at the top of the Calcutta Football League but only on superior goals, as the title race is heating up in this final stretch.
The big news of the day was the debut of Costa Rican Acosta for The Red and Gold Brigade, while Kamalpreet Singh and Laldanmawia Ralte were brought in for Lalrindicka Ralte and Subrauddin Mollick. The Mariners made no changes, relying on the emphatic duo of Dipanda Dicka and Henry Kisekka to produce the goods for them. The game started in a typical frantic fashion, with both teams eating up at each others’ feet for a goal. It was Mohun Bagan who received the first chance of the game in the 6th minute when Kisekka’s free-kick from a promising position was tipped over by Rakshit Dagar.
Acosta made his mark in the 14th minute when he clattered Shilton Paul while trying to head in a free-kick, but the 30-year old goalkeeper held firmly. The game picked up thunder in the 20th minute when the Mariners took the lead after a beautiful move. A clever pass from Arijit Bagui found Pintu Mahata inside the box and allowed the winger to hit a sweet low shot which flew past Dagar and gave Bagan an early lead. The Mariners threatened again two minutes later after Shilton D’Silva found Kisekka inside the box and the Ugandan striker hit a shot from a tight angle which went wide of the target.
East Bengal tried to go for an instant reply and a Mahmoud Al Amna corner in the 24th minute found Acosta in the box, but the marquee defender’s header went well wide of goal. The Mariners created their own set-piece chance three minutes later when Pintu’s corner found Dicka, who managed to wrestle down Acosta in the box, but his header was well wide.
Sankarlal Chakraborty’s men looked unstoppable and amazingly added another in the 30th minute when Bagui’s left-footed cross found Kisekka free inside the box, who then hit a thunderous shot which flew into the goal to give Bagan a comfortable lead.
The Red and Gold Brigaders looked shaken by the goal, but inspiration from Johnny Acosta helped them get one back. Substitute Lalrindicka Ralte had an instant impact when his cross was flicked on and fell to Jonny Acosta, whose powerful header was scuffled by Shilton. But Kim Kima’s botched clearance rebounded off Acosta and dipped into the goal to give him a goal on his debut and throw the game wide open heading into half-time.
East Bengal began the 2nd half full of energy and pegged many players forward looking for a quick equalizer. Substitute Mehtab Hossain caused chaos in the 54th minute when his scuffed backpass to Shilton almost sent Amna through on goal, but Shilton Paul was quick to come up and clear the ball out of danger. A mass brawl erupted in the 57th minute when a foul on Ralte triggered Amna, who got into a heated battle with the Mohun Bagan players and referee Pranjal Banerjee had to intervene before it escalated into a fistfight.
Dicka Ralte ended up being Bagan’s bane again in the 61st minute when his terrific inswinging corner was hurriedly parried away by Shilton, but the rebound fell to Laldanmawia Ralte who headed home to score a thrilling equalizer. The Mariners were now the ones shaken but received a great chance to get ahead in the 66th minute when a misspass let Dicka through on goal, but the striker let the defence catch up with him and hit a miserable shot which went well wide of the target.
Dicka received another chance in the 69th minute when he was set free through on goal, but his disappointing chipped attempt went shockingly wide. The game slowed down after that point, as the players seemed to have run out of steam after such a high-tempo game. Both teams were finding it extremely difficult to break each others’ defences down towards the end. Pintu Mahata was the Man of the Match for an inspired performance which proved his development in recent years. The draw sees Mohun Bagan retain their place at the top of the Calcutta Football League, but they’re tied on points with Bengal in what is turning out to be an enthralling title race