ISL 2023/24 – Mohun Bagan stamp out East Bengal

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In Indian club football, there’s no game bigger than the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal fixture, one of Asia’s — if not the world’s — fiercest rivalry.

Antonio Lopez Habas, maintaining an undefeated streak since the resumption of ISL after the Super Cup break, opted for a single alteration to his team following their 3-0 victory over Jamshedpur. Sahal Abdul Samad replaced Deepak Tangri, a substitution geared towards a more attacking approach. With Petratos, Cummings, Manvir, Liston, Kauko, and Sahal at the top, their attacking arsenal was primed and ready to face the East Bengal defense.

In contrast, East Bengal, fresh from a 1-0 loss against FC Goa, introduced two changes. Saul Crespo and Ajay Chhetri were thrust into the fray, replacing the lackluster Victor Vazquez and Vishnu PV. Vazquez’s ineffectiveness paved the way for Saul’s return since his injury-forced departure from the last derby in February. Ajay Chhetri’s past derby heroics also earned him a rightful place in Cuadrat’s starting lineup.

Despite being perceived as underdogs in recent seasons, the Red and Gold Brigade had undergone a resurgence under Cuadrat’s stewardship. With victories in the Durand Cup and Super Cup, they had challenged the traditional dominance of Mohun Bagan over the past few seasons in this historic rivalry. However, in the Indian Super League, the Green and Maroon had kept asserting their authority, remaining unbeaten in their last seven encounters against East Bengal before this game.

Mohun Bagan
Mohun Bagan led by three goals after the first 45 minutes

East Bengal faced an early scare when Dimi Petratos’ freekick floated into the box and found Anwar Ali’s head. He nodded it to Hector Yuste, but the latter’s subsequent header narrowly missed the target, with the flag eventually being raised. Despite a couple of opportunities to create something from the left flank, the Torch Bearers couldn’t capitalize. Another delivery from Petratos, this time met by Jason Cummings’ head, threatened Cuadrat’s side, but the ball couldn’t find its way into the net.

However, the first significant chance to break the deadlock came for the Red and Gold Brigade. Vishal Kaith rushed out and fouled Cleiton Silva, who was through on goal. The referee awarded a penalty, much to the Mariners’ dismay. Yet, Kaith, who moments earlier had seemed to be the devil, redeemed himself by saving Cleiton’s powerful shot aimed at the left corner. The crowd’s cheers swiftly shifted from fireworks for East Bengal to chants of “Vishal, Vishal…” in appreciation of the goalkeeper’s heroics.

Mohun Bagan’s midfield operated on two levels, with Joni Kauko orchestrating play from deeper positions, while Sahal took charge of creating opportunities further forward. Manvir Singh had several chances to deliver crosses from the right flank but often found the box devoid of any Green and Maroon jerseys. Petratos remained a constant threat with his deliveries from the left wing. East Bengal’s best opportunity fell to Chungnunga amidst the flurry of Bagan attacks, but his poor touch wasted the chance to trouble Kaith.

Mohun Bagan
Jason Cummings scored his eighth in the league

Mohun Bagan seized the lead in the 27th minute through a move orchestrated by their standout players so far in the game. Kauko initiated the attack with a delivery into the box, which was initially cleared but eventually fell to Sahal. After his attempt was blocked, Petratos unleashed a powerful shot that was parried by Prabhsukhan Gill, only for Cummings to convert the rebound expertly. The former Central Coast striker, who had been subject to much discussion due to his pricey transfer, notched his eighth goal of the season, making him the third-highest scorer in the league.

Mohun Bagan continued to threaten, and their persistence paid off as Petratos’ shot rattled the post before finding its way back to him. He then delivered a cross to Liston, who was left unmarked by three East Bengal defenders and calmly slotted the ball home, leaving the Red and Gold defense helpless spectators.

Sahal, who was Mohun Bagan’s standout player alongside Petratos, continued to weave his magic. He nearly found Liston’s run into the box with a brilliant pass, but Liston was wrestled down, prompting the referee to award a penalty in favor of The Mariners. Petratos, the talisman, confidently dispatched the penalty down the middle, leaving Gill with little chance as the ball found the back of the net. As a result, The Mariners headed into halftime with a commanding 3-0 lead over their arch-rivals. Habas’ strategy to neutralize East Bengal with their attacking firepower had paid off, as Bagan dominated proceedings.

Mohun Bagan
Petratos converted the penalty won by Liston Colaco

Mohun Bagan began the second-half with the same intensity, as Cummings had an opportunity to extend their lead to four goals when he found himself unmarked in front of the East Bengal goal. However, his strike from outside the box was met by a brilliant save from Gill. Despite this, The Torchbearers gained momentum and started to control proceedings more effectively. Their persistence paid off when captain Cleiton Silva spotted the run of Saul Crespo inside the box. Saul expertly chested the ball away from the onrushing Subhashish before unleashing an acrobatic shot past Kaith. Saul’s goal injected hope into East Bengal’s efforts.

The Spaniard’s goal energized the rest of the Red and Gold team, and they created numerous chances near Bagan’s box, reversing the roles from the first half, with East Bengal dominating proceedings. The introductions of Sayan Banerjee and Vishnu PV seemed to have a positive impact on Cuadrat’s side, who continued to threaten Kaith’s goal. While Cleiton created the first chance, he almost had the opportunity to score the second when he met Nandha’s cross brilliantly and headed it towards Bagan’s net. However, Kaith produced a fine save to deny The Torchbearers a second goal. Despite Bagan appearing more likely to score the next goal of the game before halftime, the second half presented a different scenario.

Habas opted for two defensive changes, substituting Cummings and Liston for Anirudh Thapa and Asish Rai. East Bengal maintained their attacking stance, and the newcomers combined well, with Sayan’s cross finding Cleiton, who set up Vishnu, but the latter’s overhead kick sailed over the goal. Mohun Bagan struggled to control the midfield, losing possession frequently.

After the drinks break, East Bengal’s intensity waned, and Bagan had opportunities to attack their box, with the newly introduced Armando Sadiku finding some space. Sadiku’s energy injected freshness into Bagan’s attack and his pressing nearly led to another goal, but Hijazi managed to recover possession which he had given away easily moments back. The Red and Gold Brigade’s high defensive line, which they held for the entire second half, seemed vulnerable in the final minutes, but Bagan’s forwards appeared fatigued to capitalize on the chances.

East Bengal
Saul Crespo netted his first goal in the Indian Super League

The game could have sparked to life in the final minutes of extra time when Abhishek Suryavanshi brought down Vishnu PV inside the box. However, instead of awarding a penalty, the referee cautioned the East Bengal player for diving, leaving Carles Cuadrat visibly frustrated on the touchline due to the referee’s decision.

East Bengal’s comeback efforts arrived 45 minutes too late, and until the 80th minute, they could have possibly envisioned scoring three goals before their attack lost momentum. Despite their second-half struggles, Habas’ team will be delighted with their attacking performance in the first half. They seemed nearly unstoppable until Cuadrat’s adjustments.

Mohun Bagan edge closer to ISL Shield

Mohun Bagan now leads the table with 36 points from 17 games, level with Mumbai City but with a game in hand. They can extend their lead at the top with a victory in the match they have. The race for the Shield has entered an exciting phase, with Habas’ team holding the advantage. Conversely, East Bengal’s hopes for a top-six finish have diminished further as they fall further behind their competitors. The Mariners and East Bengal will both encounter Kerala Blasters in their upcoming matches, although East Bengal’s next game is scheduled for April.


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Anurag Guha
Anurag Guha
Loves Indian Football and cars that go vroom vroom

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