Goals from Hugo Boumous and Manvir Singh punctured a resolute defensive show from East Bengal as ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) beat them 2-0 in the Indian Super League (ISL) in front of 62,542 people here on Saturday.
If Boumous was the night’s hero for his goal and trickery in the front third, Kamaljit Singh was the opposite. The East Bengal goalie has been got for a transfer fee from Odisha FC as they desperately tried to stitch together a team. He was iffy in three games but his worst of the season came on Indian football’s biggest night.
Loyalties divided almost equally in half, the football theatre united once. It started from the ATKMB side of rafters but spread to the other side as torches on mobiles added to the luminous intensity of a stadium where the lights, unlike in Hyderabad, didn’t play false. For the rest of the evening, before and during the first Kolkata derby of ISL9, Saturday evening was everything local rivalries in football are famous for.
Roads flanking either side of the Salt Lake stadium had mobile stalls dotted with flags, club shirts and headbands. It was maroon and green on one side for gates that would let in those who swear by ATKMB and red and gold on the other. Flags went for ₹100 and ₹150, ditto shirts. Headbands were being sold for ₹10. The delayed start meant most could get in before the game started because at 7:30pm many were still making way to their seats.
ATKMB were faster off the blocks channeling attacking energies down the left where Subhasish Bose, Liston Colaco and Boumous were working up neat combination plays. Bose shot out early and then Colaco banged into the side netting. But after the first quarter, East Bengal grew into the game and Thongkhosiem Haokip twisted his head to connect a Mahesh Singh prompt from the left. It needed Vishal Kaith to pull off a snap save. One minute later, Singh again found Jordan O’Doherty down the inside left channel. The Australian, who put in an excellent shift in central midfield, fell after contact with Ashish Rai but referee CR Srikrishna didn’t think it merited a penalty.
East Bengal deployed a low block, often having two banks of four protecting their goal so ATKMB needed to do something special to break the deadlock. It didn’t come before the interval because under pressure their decision making in the front third wasn’t worthy of the famed frontline’s reputation. Boumous delayed pulling the trigger and then Colaco’s first touch let him down after ATKMB circulated the ball from the right and through the centre before releasing their attacker on the left. ATKMB ended the half with Boumous trying to find Rai with a lob. Rai connected but couldn’t get enough power because Jerry Lalrinzuala was too close to him.
Boumous, easily the most comfortable with the ball, was always a threat but didn’t get on the scoresheet because of that. That happened because of a clanger from Kamaljit who was unable to get behind a hopeful drive from the French-Moroccan. It was also the only time Charalambos Kyriacou, who along with O’Doherty had made things very difficult for ATKMB’s attackers, was a step behind. With a clear look on goal, Boumous fired and seconds later he was running to be with fans who wanted to touch their hero. This time only half the cauldron was lit by torches.
From 1-0 in the 56th minute, it became 2-0 in the 66th and again East Bengal could have felt they were unlucky. Boumous and Colaco found Petratos inside the area and his shot or pass took a deflection and fell kindly for an unmarked Manvir Singh. Singh didn’t need a second invitation and beat the East Bengal goalie at the near post for his second goal in as many home games.
The cruel night got crueler for East Bengal when Tuhin Das banged into the framework and when three players inside the penalty area couldn’t test Kaith with a shot. A little earlier, Lenny Rodrigues, the ever-dependable substitute, stuck a timely leg out to deny Elinadro dos Santos’ pass from reaching Cleiton Silva. Soon after, the stadium emptied out, only one side going gently into the night.