I-League: Mohun Bagan defeat league leaders Bengaluru FC 2-0
Mohun Bagan earned a valuable three points away to Bengaluru FC, as the grudge match between the champions and last season’s runners-up ended 2-0 in favour of the visitors. After Lalchuanmawia was sent off on the hour mark, Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the opener in the 74th minute, with Sony Norde completing the scoreline in injury time.
Having rested a couple of first teamers in the last game, Ashley Westwood named a fairly strong lineup with a couple of surprises. The Englishman opted for Thoi Singh in the middle with Eugeneson Lyngdoh injured, while Beikho started on the wings instead of CK Vineeth, with a view to containing Bagan’s tricky wide men, as Bengaluru lined up in a 4-3-3 formation.
Sanjoy Sen’s only surprise was starting with Kean Lewis in midfield as Souvik Chakrabarti and Bikramjit Singh were left on the bench, while he went with his trusted 4 attacking players up top, while retaining his first-choice defensive lineup.
Bengaluru FC XI (4-3-3): Amrinder Singh (GK); Lalchuanmawia, Curtis Osano, John Johnson, Rino Anto; Michael Collins, Thoi Singh, Shankar Sampingiraj; Sunil Chhetri, Kim Song Yong, Bengaichho Beikhokhei
Mohun Bagan XI (4-2-3-1): Debjit Majumder (GK); Dhanachandra Singh, Luciano Sobrosa, Kinshuk Debnath, Raju Gaikwad; Pronay Halder, Kean Lewis; Sony Norde, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Yusa Katsumi; Cornell Glen.
‘Just another game of football’ is how BFC manager Ashley Westwood described the game beforehand, but given the manner in which the two sides started, it was clear that we were witnessing a rivalry being fostered. Yusa Katsumi and Sunil Chhetri both drove their respective teams forward in an end-to-end start to the game.
The hatred in the air was palpable even from the stands, as Katsumi and Shankar clashed in the 6th minute, after the Japanese midfielder took objection to the Karnataka lad’s rather innocuous tackle, needing the referee to separate them and calm things down.
Mohun Bagan were the more threatening of the two sides in the opening stages, as BFC needed a couple of last-ditch tackles to block efforts from Cornell Glen and Jeje Lalpehlua, leading to a spate of corners. The Mariner’s had a great chance in the 12th minute, as Katsumi sent in a free kick that Jeje headed over the bar, with Amrinder Singh looking on nervously as it looped over the bar.
Bengaluru were struggling to control possession in midfield, and had their best shout in the 20th minute, as Sunil Chhetri went down from a free kick in the box, but the referee waved play on. With both sides pressing high, clear-cut chances were few and far between; instead there were fouls aplenty as Osano and Pronay Halder went into the book.
The best chance of the game came just past the half-hour mark, as Kean Lewis jinked past a couple of challenges before unleashing a rasping effort that went narrowly wide, with Amrinder at full stretch. As the first half neared the end, BFC came back into the game with a spell of good possession, leading to half-chances that Thoi Singh and Chhetri volleyed over.
The even nature of the game was exemplified in the final minute of injury time, as BFC nearly scored from a corner, but with Sony Norde about to release Glen on a dangerous counter, Lalchuanmawia went into the book for a foul on the Haitian, which ensured the score remained 0-0 at the break.
The second half started much like the first, with both sides trading chances, as Thoi Singh and Cornell Glen went close for their respective sides. With little separating both sides, the game regressed into a disjointed affair, with no clear cut chances being created in the opening stages of the second half.
The pivotal moment of the game came on the hour mark, as Lalchuanmawia was sent off for a second yellow card. The left-back earned his marching orders much like the first, fouling Norde on the counter, resulting in Bengaluru being reduced to ten men.
Westwood responded by bringing on CK Vineeth for Kim, with Shankar dropping into defence. With the Mariner’s playing against 10 men, Bagan had the edge and nearly profited in the 66th minute, as Cornell Glen shot over when he had worked space in the box.
It mattered little as Bagan found themselves in the lead in the 74th minute, as Jeje gave the visitors the lead. The Indian frontman profited as Gaikwad’s cross from the right trickled past Glen and the BFC centre-backs, allowing Jeje to wrongfoot Rino Anto with his first touch, creating a yard of space for him to lift the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net, sending the travelling Bagan faithful wild.
With Bengaluru needing to attack, Bagan began to profit on the counter, as Kean Lewis and Yus Katsumi both went close to doubling the Mariner’s lead with efforts from range, but Amrinder proved equal to the task. Both coaches made changes going into the final minutes, but it did not change the pattern of the game.
Sony Norde confirmed the victory with a goal in the final seconds, as the Haitian was left in space on the left edge of the box with Bengaluru pushing up, allowing him to calmly slot the ball past a despairing Amrinder into the bottom right corner.
As the referee blew the final whistle, it was the away fans in full voice, as the rest of the 17564 inside the stadium left dejected, as Bengaluru lost ground in the title race, as their Kolkata rivals stole a march on them with 3 valuable points.