HOME DEBUT turned out to be a sour experience for DSK Shivajians as their forwards failed to score a goal for the 4th game in a row, while Sony Norde had an amazing time scoring two goals for Mohun Bagan that clinched a victory for the defending champions.
The home team came into this game with all they had. They made 4 changes to the side that lost to East Bengal away from home. Zohmingliana Ralte, Justin Stephen, Indrajit Chougale and Zohib Amiri made their way into the starting line up to form a relatively more experienced first eleven.
Mohun Bagan, too, did not take this game lightly. Pritam Kotal, who is going through a bad run of form, dropped to the bench to make way for Raju Gaikwad. Brandon Fernandes came in for Souvik Chakraborty. It was a full-strength suqad; Sanjay Sen was not willing to risk dropping points here by rotating ahead of the big game in China.
After a weak early free-kick from Douhou Pierre, the Shivajians fished for an opportunity when Lalhmangaihsanga sent a free-kick from a distance into the Bagan penalty box but Debjit Majumder grabbed it. Yet another free kick, taken by Pierre again, was below-par and got swatted away by Katsumi Yusa.
Then Mohun Bagan started making moves. Brandon Fernandes got a shot on target that keeper Subrata Paul somehow managed to clear for a corner. But the corner kick, taken by Katsumi Yusa, delivered the ball straight to Sony Norde inside the box who put a finisher on it with pin-point precision. The Green and Maroons were ahead.
The home team almost scored when Debjit fumbled trying to collect a free-kick. The ball went to Zohmingliana who let fly but the ball went above the target.
Sony Norde, meanwhile, was a constant threat. He fed Pronay Halder a good ball but the latter was brought down to put a stop to that attack.
Moments layer, Pronay himself got on the referee's book for a foul on Pierre. But that was just the beginning of a series of cards as the game got increasingly physical.
Lalhangaihsanga was the next to pick up a yellow for his reckless foul on Brandon Fernandes. Then Shivajians forward Mohammad Rafi also got booked.
The game hit half-time with the scoreline reading 0-1, and Bollywood musical sensation Shaan took to the pitch to sing the DSK Shivajians theme song. It seemed to delight the home fans more than the match.
The Shivajians took to the pitch in the second half with Israil Gurung replacing star foreigner Aser Dipanda up front; a bold but desperate move from Derrick Pereira to get a result. It almost had an effect; Gurung sent in a lethal cross into the Bagan box early on but Luciano Sabrosa got to the ball just in time to clear it.
And then Bagan scored again. He got the ball, looked up to see a narrow gap and sent it in low and hard. Subrata saw it coming, diving full-stretch, hand reaching for the incoming ball... but it was too late. The ball scorched through to the net. Mohun Bagan were up by 2 goals.
And the away side kept coming at the Shivajians. Jeje Lalpekhlua made a run forward and got a shot on target but Subrata Paul made a heroic save off that one. Then Cornell GLen tried to send a lobbed ball past the defenders that was just too high for the goalpost.
Then Indrajit supplied a great cross to Mohammed Rafi, who took aim at the goal but Debjit saved it. The ball fell to Israil Gurung who had to send it into a nearly empty goal from a very close range. But he shot it too high. The best chance of the game went begging for the Shivajians.
And things went from bad to worse. Lalhmangaihsanga brought down Jeje Lalpekhlua rather rashly and received his second yellow card and the Shivajians were now down to 10 men.
Glen tried his luck again on the weakened DSK defence as he ran into their penalty box. But he tripped and botched the move. Soon, he was subbed out for Souvik Chakraborty.
For the last few minutes, it was Mohun Bagan dominating the proceedings and the DSK Shivajians team defended in a rather dejected way. The victory thus went, rather inevitably, to the defending champions.
This was the first away game for Mohun Bagan, and the win has given them a lot of boost both in the league table and in the context of their difficult assignment in China. The team rushed out of the Balewadi Sport Complex soon after the match to reach the Mumbai airport on time to catch a 2:30 am flight to Beijing, from where they will travel to Shandong by bus. It's a hectic schedule and the players are unlikely to get a normal sleep for a long time, which may multiply their fatigue.
So, as a tired-looking DSK Shivajians team went home for the night to recover ahead of their home game against Mumbai FC on 7th February, a physically exhausted Mohun Bagan team took to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for a long night of travelling. They will take on Shandong Luneng Taishan FC on the 2nd of February, in sub-zero temperatures, after just one or two practice sessions.
And only when they take to the pitch shall we know how much their emphasis in the I-League has affected their cause in the AFC Champions League.