Five memorable East Bengal – Mohun Bagan clashes in the I-League
Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan revive their famous rivalry on Sunday in a crucial I-League clash with both teams looking for three points to gain the bragging rights and improve their position in the table.
Sunday’s meeting will be the 302nd meeting between the sides who first clashed more than eight decades ago. Although East Bengal are ahead in the head-to-head, the balance of power has shifted from one rival to another over the years.
Sportskeeda lists five memorable meetings in the I-League that would show how the fortunes of the sides have changed from one end to another in the last five years.
East Bengal 0-2 Mohun Bagan (January 21 2008)
East Bengal won the Federation Cup at the start of the 2007-08 season with Mohun Bagan legend Subroto Bhattacharya as their coach. But things went terribly wrong for East Bengal in the I-League as they were staring at relegation. Subroto resigned in the new year and was replaced by East Bengal legend Manoranjan Bhattacharya. League form was not the only thing worrying East Bengal fans, as their team were also struggling against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. Coming into this game, East Bengal had lost the last four derbies at the Salt Lake Stadium, including the first-ever I-League meeting earlier in the season which was decided by a goal from Bhaichung Bhutia, who was with Mohun Bagan. The Sikkimese Sniper, who scored a hat-trick for East Bengal in this fixture in 1997, would prove to be the match winner in this game also as his brace for ten-man Mohun Bagan saw East Bengal suffer their eighth defeat in 12 matches. East Bengal would eventually survive but the bragging rights that season belonged to Mohun Bagan, thanks to the clinical finishing of the former India captain.
East Bengal 3-0 Mohun Bagan (February 22 2009)
The build-up to this game couldn’t have been more contrasting for the two rivals. Mohun Bagan were on a high as they had created a club and I-League record by winning ten straight matches with an article about it appearing on the official website of FIFA. They were looking good for the title and favourites to continue their excellent form against East Bengal. The red-and-gold brigade were short of confidence, form and luck. While Mohun Bagan had already won the Federation Cup and Kolkata League, East Bengal had nothing to show so this fixture was their last chance to bring a smile to their fans’ faces. And like in the past, it was the underdogs who triumphed and in emphatic fashion. After an untidy start to the game, a couple of quality dead ball deliveries from East Bengal’s Renedy Singh were headed into the back of the net by Syed Rahim Nabi. Sunil Chhetri completed the rout as East Bengal regained the bragging rights in style with legendary coach Subhas Bhowmick once again doing the trick. That defeat completely shattered the confidence of Mohun Bagan as they lost their way in the title race and finished second.
East Bengal 3-5 Mohun Bagan (October 25 2009)
Revenge was certainly on the minds of Mohun Bagan when the teams clashed for the first time in the 2009-10 season. Bencherifa strengthened the team by bringing in Edeh Chidi from Mahindra United while East Bengal brought a couple of unknown foreigners named Srecko Mitrovic and Uga Okpara, with Bhowmick only giving the former a start. Nirmal Chettri put East Bengal in front from a Renedy Singh corner but Mohun Bagan hit back with three goals. Chidi bagged a brace while an unknown Manish Maithani scored the other. And it was turning into a goal fest as East Bengal’s veteran Ghanaian Yusif Yakubu scored twice to make it 3-3 at halftime. The defences of both teams were in shambles with Chidi causing East Bengal’s backline all sorts of problems while Mohun Bagan were getting exposed every time Renedy Singh crossed or put a delivery from a set-piece.
Both sides needed their coaches’ inputs at the interval and only one group of players learned from it. Just a minute after the break, Chidi regained the lead for Mohun Bagan. He also became the second player to score a hat-trick in this fixture after Bhutia and 20 minutes later, he went one better. Some more poor defending allowed the Nigerian to get his fourth as Bagan avenged the loss in February in style. But the scoreline had extra significance as Mohun Bagan had put five past their rivals for the very first time and for many of their fans, the disappointment of losing 5-0 in the 1975 IFA Shield final was also extinguished. Bagan though couldn’t go on and win the league with Bencherifa also leaving in February. East Bengal went on to win the Federation Cup with a certain Okpara, who was dropped from the 5-3 game, being instrumental.
East Bengal 2-1 Mohun Bagan (April 9 2011)
The fortunes of these two fierce rivals had changed drastically this season with East Bengal winning three trophies and challenging for the title again under new coach Trevor Morgan, while lack of stability saw Mohun Bagan win nothing and Subhas Bhowmick of all people in charge. Morgan couldn’t have wished for a better start as East Bengal coach and he was also consistently enjoying derby success, having won three of the four previous meetings that season already. This match had more than bragging rights at stake as East Bengal were looking to catch league leaders Salgaocar. Mohun Bagan had nothing but pride to play for and were overrun and outplayed, although their veteran fullback Surkumar Singh did cancel out Tolgay Ozbey’s first half opener at the start of the second to give their fans some hope.
However, Tolgay turned provider as he set up Baljit Sahni to give East Bengal a 2-1 lead and that goal in the end proved to be the winner. A couple of poor away results saw East Bengal eventually settle for the runners-up slot behind Salgaocar but that season under Morgan they had regained the local bragging rights while Mohun Bagan went backwards.
Mohun Bagan 1-0 East Bengal (November 20 2011)
In terms of quality, this match is not worth remembering but a couple of incidents make this an important match of this historic rivalry. East Bengal were challenging for the I-League crown again under Morgan while instability continued to haunt Mohun Bagan as Englishman Steve Darby resigned after being appointed the start of the season. It opened the door for the return of club legend Subroto Bhattacharya in the role of technical director with another club great Prasanta Banerjee as coach. Under Darby, Bagan had bowed out of the Federation Cup but the duo suddenly started getting the best out of the team with Odafa Okolie as the central figure. Yet, East Bengal remained the favourites to get all three points but in the match, Morgan’s team were stifled by the defensive tactics of Subroto. And then from a counter attack, Mohun Bagan were awarded a penalty. The foul by Okpara on Sunil Chhetri even after several replays didn’t look conclusive but Odafa kept his cool in front of more than 85,000 spectators to put the green-and-maroons in front.
The referee Pratap Singh would later deny East Bengal’s Alan Gow a much clearer penalty as Mohun Bagan in the end held on for an ugly yet priceless win. Pratap Singh became villain number one among East Bengal fans but more drama came from an incident not related to the football. In the 75th minute, the entire stadium was plunged into darkness as Salt Lake Stadium witnessed yet another power cut. Play resumed after 18 minutes and neither team could produce the football the electric atmosphere and handsome attendance deserved, although Mohun Bagan went home happy in the end. Despite several promises from the state sports ministry of West Bengal since that day, new floodlights are yet to be installed in the stadium and it hasn’t hosted an evening I-League match ever since.