Mohun Bagan SG get off to winning start against newly-promoted Punjab FC in ISL 2023-24
Dampening Punjab FC's momentous occasion of making their debut in the Indian Super League (ISL), cup holders Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG) registered a clinical 3-1 victory in Kolkata on Saturday.
Jason Cummings got on the scoresheet in his league debut, while Dimitri Petratos and Manvir Singh added a goal each. For the visitors, Luka Majcen tucked home their only goal of the night.
The Mariners fielded a pretty expected lineup, with Glan Martins replacing a suspended Anirudh Thapa in the midfield. Juan Ferrando reverted to his trusted three-at-the-back system and it was evident that Punjab would need plenty of flair to break them down.
However, the incessant pressing from the visitors in the initial exchanges did push the defending champions into their own half. After absorbing the pressure with great panache, Mohun Bagan steadily started to control the proceedings and stitch together significant attacking threats.
The newly promoted outfit's momentous night was halted in the 10th minute itself when Cummings got off the mark right away in his ISL debut. Mohammad Salah's pockets were picked by Asish Rai in the opposition half and the MBSG wingback marched down the right flank before cutting the ball back for Sahal Abdul Samad. While the former KBFC midfielder's first touch wasn't the cleanest, the ball fell kindly for the Australian forward, who poached it home.
In front of the roaring away crowd and Mohun Bagan's relentless quality, the Shers were experiencing one of the sternest tests in the league on their debut. Completely overwhelmed by the intricate passing, Punjab conceded a second goal in the 35th minute.
Jason Cummings carved open the opposition defense with a gorgeous ball to set Liston Colaco through on goal. But the winger had the presence of mind to spot Dimitri Petratos making a run behind him and cut the ball back for his teammate, who calmly tucked it home into the open net.
Minutes later, the Green and Maroon Brigade could've had a third when Liston was once again one-on-one with the keeper but this time Kiran Limbu stepped in with a crucial save.
As the half-time arrived, it was evident that Punjab were already out of depth against the champions and Staikos Vergetis had plenty of recalibration to do.
Punjab FC's strong start in the second half was negated by clinical Mohun Bagan SG
Identical to the first half, Punjab FC steered to a blistering start after the break. Madih Talal's low cross into the first post found Prasanth K, but the latter's first-time effort nestled into the side-netting. However, the Shers had already started to show hints of a fightback.
A miscued back pass from Glan Martins in the 53rd minute helped Punjab as their prime goal-getter Luka Majcen was perfectly positioned it ease the ball past a helpless Vishal Kaith. The Slovenian forward, who had been scoring goals for fun across multiple levels in the country, managed to get off the mark in the top tier as well. More importantly, Vergetis' men were in touching distance of restoring parity.
Minutes later, Ashish Pradhan headed the ball into the net from a Juan Mera delivery but before Punjab FC players could set off to celebrate, the linesman raised his flag to indicate an offside. However, the visitors were all over the Green and Maroon Brigade for the first time in the match.
Ferrando had to react to the switch in momentum and he brought on Manvir Singh to alter the proceedings. The Punjab-born forward managed to do just that against the club from home state in the 64th minute. Cutting short Punjab's domination, Manvir flicked home Mohun Bagan's third goal from an inch-perfect low cross from Petratos.
Ample substitutions followed from Staikos Vergetis' side, with Mashoor Shereef and Krishnananda Singh replacing Prasanth K and Nikhil Prabhu. Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan flexed their muscles as they brought the quality of Hugo Boumous and Armando Sadiku off the bench.
After the third goal went in, Punjab's intensity steadily decayed and it emerged as a comfortable ride for Mohun Bagan. After six minutes of injury time, the referee finally brought the clash to an end, ensuring the Mariners' first victory of the season. For the Shers, it will be important to stick to their guns and not get bogged down by the scoreline.