A LOT WAS PROMISED ahead of this fixture. The Mumbai FC fans had promised the best crowd at the Cooperage in recent memory. The home club had promised a breakout from their stereotype as a defensive team; that they'd attack the opponents from the get go. The away team, East Bengal, had promised that despite a few injuries they'd put up a performance that'd make a fitting prelude to the Kolkata Derby on Saturday.
A lot of those promises were fulfilled today. About an hour before kick-off, dozens of Mumbai FC fans gathered in front of the Eros movie theatre and held a flag march all the way to the Cooperage Stadium.
Mumbai FC players were true to coach Khalid Jamil's words, too. They started the game as the more dominant side, showed more zeal throughout the game, did well to lock down the danger men Ranti Martins and Do Dong-hyun.
But they didn't quite shed their reputation as a draw-squad. And part of that was East Bengal's unfulfilled promise. Biswajit Bhattacharya played it kind of safe, and was happy to take a point. His team lacked the spark he promised; perhaps they were saving their energy for the Derby.
After a few early corners to get them off the ground Mumbai FC were looking for a hole in the Red and Golds' armour. Sushil Kumar tried a shot. Eric Brown did so as well. Both were squatted without much difficulty by the East Bengal defence.
Then Mumbai FC got a free kick from scoring range and Eric Brown stepped up to take it. He hammered away with his left foot and the ball came in like a bullet, beating everyone including keeper Rehenesh TP. But it hit the post and came off.
Soon East Bengal had a free-kick of their own and Do Dong-hyun did the honours. But the ball came off the wall.
By the time the second half begane it was obvious that the game was going to be most memorable for its physicality. The 3,870 fans present at the Cooperage were intimidating the away players with some loud, aggressive chants and the contest on the pitch reflected their sentiments. The first half had seen 4 yellow cards dished out to miscreants, including Mumbai FC's Eric Brown and East Bengal's Sanju Pradhan, Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Ranti Martins.
East Bengal tried to play a different game in the second period, mobilizing the midfield to stretch out the game a bit more. But the Cooperage, being a narrower pitch than the ones East Bengal are used to (Barasat, Salt Lake, Kalyani) did not allow them much room and Mumbai FC defenders were able to absorb most of the pressure.
But when after trying again and again Sanju pradhan ended up with the ball inside the Mumbai FC box his shot was weak, it didn't go in.
The game ended at 0-0 with neither team creating many chances except from set pieces. And although for the fans of gritty, physical football this match did not lack in entertainment. But neither coach will come away smiling from this game. Khalid Jamil will rue that Eric Brown shot that hit the woodwork. Biswajit Bhattacharya will be disappointed with the way his players handled themselves in the final third and the poor finishing from most of his attackers. He will also be worried with the way Bikash Jairu messed with his defenders on the left wing and the trapping of Ranti Martins pulled off by Mumbai FC defenders. Going into the first I-League Kolkata Derby of the season, this wasn't a reassuring performance from the Calcutta Football League champions.