Almost midway into the 2014/15 season of I League, Mohun Bagan find themselves at the top of table, four points clear of second ranked defending champions Bengaluru FC. Having endured almost five years without a major trophy, the Mariners have displayed a compact game so far this season and look all set to end their trophy drought this season. Bagan last won the Federation Cup and the Kolkata Football League in 2009 and since then the silverware has eluded them. The club has often faced the ire of its desperate fans and their wait may final come to an end as Bagan cemented their place a the top of the table with a 1-0 win in the Kolkata Derby.
One of the primary things Bagan have done well this season is to give time to their foreign players and head coach to settle down. Known for their hire and fire policy, Bagan did well to persist with Sanjoy Sen after they were knocked out of the Federation Cup in the group stages. An intelligent coach known for his pragmatic coach, Sanjoy Sen has instilled a sense of discipline among the players and has got his tactics right for most of the I League campaign so far whether is has been playing Boya as a withdrawn striker or playing Norde in the midfield . Another factor Sanjoy Sen has got right this season that he has kept the foreign players under control and has prevented them from acquiring a demigod like status. These players have been often accused of playing politics in the team as well and often enjoy perks that the fellow players dona t. The well documented incident of Odafa Okolie venting out his frustration on young Pritam Kotal after the Federation Cup semi-final loss last season. is an example of this.The Mariners have been a perfect example of team work so far where everyone has contributed to the team’ s cause.
The club also stuck with Peirre Boya when he was struggling at the start of the season but the marquee player has gradually grown in confidence as the season has progressed. Boya scored twice in the Federation Cup and has scored twice in the six I League matched he has featured in this season. The 31 year from Cameroon has been employed as a withdrawn striker behind Balwant Singh by Sanjoy Sen and he has done his job well by dropping deep to help the midfield as was the case in the 1-0 win over arch rivals East Bengal recently. The two other attacking foreign players in the team – Yusa Katsumi and Sony Norde have been playing well on the right and left flanks respectively and have troubled the opposition with their pace and trickery. Katsumi, the only foreign player retained from last season has grown in stature and has become a fan favorite with his work ethics and has featured in all the nine games so far scoring four goals thus far. Haitian international Sony Norde on the other hand has been a live wire ever since he joined the club this season and though he may have scored just three goals, he has played a key role in creating several chances for the other strikers. Bello Rasaq has held the team’ s defense together and with Pritam Kotal on national duty and Shouvik Ghosh injured, Bello has been the leader in the defense. The Nigerian, who was the last recruited foreign player has led from the front and has guided the fellow inexperienced defenders well. His importance in the team can be testified by the fact that he has played all 90 minutes in the 9 games Bagan have played.
The Indian players in the team have also played a key role in the team’s success. Balwant Singh, who scored the winner in the Kolkata derby has carried on his impressive form which he displayed at Churchill Brothers last season. With five goals in the I League so far, Balwant is Bagan’ s top scorer and is knocking on the national team door. Debjit Majumder was Bagan’ s second choice custodian behind Shilton Paul but he has utilized the chances that have come his way after injury to Shilton Paul. Balwant may have earned the man of the match award but it was Debjit’ s inspired goalkeeping that won the Kolkata derby for the Mariners. He saved whatever East Bengal threw at him. The likes of Kingshuk Debnath, Sehnaj Singh, Bikramjit Singh and Pritam Kotal have chipped in with valuable contributions whenever the team has needed them.
On the field, the second derby of the season lived upto its billing as the most anticipated match of the I League season. Mohun Bagan started with a new look defense as Anwar Ali made his I League debut for Bagan alongside Bello Rasaq in the heart of the defense. East Bengal started with Ranti and Dudu upfront and Eelco Schattorie’ s men were on the attack right from the start. The first real chance of the match fell for Dudu around the 30th minute but his powerful shot was blocked by Debjit. The Lal Hould brigade had a couple of more chances before the half time but were denied by some inspired goal-keeping from Debjit. Ten minutes into the second half, Katsumi went past Robert Lalthalamuana on the right side only to see his shot saved by Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. The rebound fell to Balwant who put the ball into the net to give the Mariners the lead. The goal proved to be the winner as East Bengal failed to convert the chances that came their way.
With wins over Bengaluru FC, Dempo and East Bengal in their last five matches, Mohun Bagan have truly emerged as title contenders at the half way stage. The only real worry for them is their defense with Dhanachandra Singh and Shouvik Ghosh injured and Pritam Kotal out on national duty. If Sanjoy Sen can organize his defense, the Mariners could well be on their way to end their trophy drought
Without three of their foreign players – Carlos Hernandez, Tolgay Ozbey and Haroon Amiri Dempo played a goal-less draw with Bharat FC at the Fatorda stadium. Dempo were the better of the two teams but were denied win by some poor finishing from their strikers and by some inspired performance by Arindam. The game was largely restricted to the midfield for most of the ninety minutes and the result did no good to either of teams as Dempo continued to be on the 9th position with the newly entrants Bharat FC a spot above them. Dempo have failed to click this season despite having some key Indian and foreign players and new coach Trevor Morgan has his task cut.
Sporting Club de Goa played host to Shillong Lajong in the battle of the two bottom sides. The Flaming Oranje went ahead in the fourth minute courtsey Anthony Wolfe latched on to a through ball by Odafa Okolie. Stung by a goal, Lajong went on the offensive with Cornell Glen leading the attack for the visitors. They were rewarded for their efforts on the stroke of the halftime with Glen scoring the equalizer and Boithang capturing the assist. Lajong were reduced to ten men when goalkeeper Vishal Kaith was sent off in the 50th minute for handling the ball. Sporting however failed to capitalize on the numerical advantage and were themselves reduced to ten men after Joyner Lourenco was sent off. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and both sides retained their positions in the table.
Salgaocar avenged their 3-0 loss to Mumbai earlier in the season by beating Khalid Jamil side 3-1 with Jaison Vales, Bikash Jairu and Rocus Lamare getting on the score-sheet for the Goan Greens. Despite the absence of Darryl Duffy and Yemeni midfielder Khaled Belaid, Salgaocar were the dominant side and went ahead in the 5th minute when Jaison scoring the goal after Jairu’ s effort was saved by Kunal Sawant. Jairu grabbed the second on the stroke of the half time while Rocus Lamare converted from the spot in the 64th minute to make it 3-0. Substitute Milagres Gonsalves reduced the margin in the injury time. The result saw Salgaocar climb to 5th spot in the table while Mumbai dropped to 7th in the table.
Royal Wahingdoh FC rode on a brace by striker Jackichand Singh to beat Karim Bencherifa mentored Pune FC 2-0 in the last match of round 13. Wahingdoh started on the offensive right from the start with Lalmangaihsanga, Kim and Jackichand troubling the Red Lizzards. The deadlock was broken in the 39th minute when Jackichand put to bed a cross from the left by Lalmangaihsanga. Wahingdoh were the dominant side in the second half as well and Jacki, who made his international debut against Nepal earlier in the month, scored the second in the 68th minute to put the match beyond the visitors. Wahingdoh rose to third in the table while Pune FC dropped to fourth.