The first Kolkata derby of 2016 ended in a 1-1 draw between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, as the two arch rivals measured each other up in the early stages of the I-League.

With a capacity crowd in the Salt Lake Stadium, on the 119th birth anniversary of Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, the Kolkata derby kicked off with East Bengal taking the early innitiative. Mohun Bagan however, were right with their opponents all the way through, sitting back in defence and looking to break on the counter.

Sanjoy Sen’s decision to start with 19-year-old Azharuddin Mallick seems to have been made just to comply with the AIFF’s U-22 rule, that states that every team must have at least one player under the age of 22, in their starting XI. Azharuddin was taken off on the 13th minute, as Balwant Singh came on to take up his usual position alongside strike partner Cornell Glen.

In spite of this attacking change however, it was East Bengal who had the better chances with Arnab Mondal heading a Mehtab Hussein corner straight into the hands of Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Debjit Majumder. Bikash Jairu had a lively first half, as he constantly troubled Mohun Bagan right back Pritam Kotal on the right wing. Kotal was often left flat-footed, as Jairu darted off with the ball into good crossing positions. On the other side, Sony Norde, who had returned to the squad a few days ahead of the Derby, was the key player making darting runs from Mohun Bagan’s left wing.

Mehtab Hussain also had quite a memorable first half, as the veteran midfielder charged about the middle of the park, snapping at the feet of the Mohun Bagan players, to play the role of the hard man. However, for all the fanfare built around the game, the best chance of the first half fell on the head of East Bengal’s South Korean star Do Dong-hyun, after an exquisite cross from Abinash Ruidas from the right flank.

It was a much better showing in the second half, as both the teams seemed to have shaken their early-derby jitters, to go looking for the opening goal of the match. While Mohun Bagan captain for the day Katsumi Yusa played Glen through on goal at the edge of the East Bengal Penalty area, Do Dong created a bit of space at the other end, cutting in from the right flank, to unleash a vicious shot. Rehenesh and Debjit, the respective goalkeepers of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan however, were up to their task, and save the efforts.

The breakthrough was however made by the Lal Holud brigade, as Jairu played Ranti Martins through with a wonderful aerial through ball. Marins did well to lose his marker Kingshuk Debnath, and side-foot it into the right hand bottom corner of Debjit’s goal.

This 63rd minute goal prompted Mohun Bagan manager Sanjoy Sen to give some more attacking impetus to the team by bringing on forward Jeje Lalpekhlua instead of midfielder Souvik Chakrabarti. The midfielder wasn’t having the best of games, and post the substitution Yusa moved to the center of the park while Jeje moved to the right.  Martins took a ferocious free kick from around 20 yards out, which was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Debjit. East Bengal would have to pay for not scoring from this great chance, as their arch rivals equalized soon after.

Mohun Bagan soon earned a free kick at the other end, which was curled into the box beautifully by Sony Norde, as striker Glen brilliantly headed it in, to bring the score back to level on the 77th minute. The intensity of the game in the last 10 minutes seemed to have increased manifold, as both the teams tried to go for the winner in the derby with both sets of fans cheering on the fans.

However, East Bengal coach Biswajit Bhattacharya seemed to have settled for a draw, as he took Do Dong out to bring on Shylo Mama. With the game in it’s last stretches defending champions Mohun Bagan had one last go at the East Bengal goal, in an attempt to win the match, as Jeje crossed the ball into the bax, aimed at Glen. The Trinidad & Tobago man sent in a powerful header low and hard into Rehenesh’s bottom right corner, but the 22-year-old goalkeeper bade a brilliant reaction save from close range. He was helpless though as Sony Norde latched on to the lose rebound. However, the Haitian forward sent his shot wide.

After this even Mohun Bagan settled for the point, as Sen threw in an extra midfielder in the form of Bikramjit Singh, in place of striker Glen, in order to see off the remaining minute or two. This high-octane match ended with a 1-1 scoreline as both the teams made it clear that they were not prepared to lose a game of such a big stature, so early on in the season.

Image Courtesy: AIFF Media