THE CLASH BETWEEN Mohun Bagan and Tollygunge Agragami came to a bizarre conclusion today as a mistake from the Mohun Bagan staff may see them lose 3 points in spite of convincingly winning the match by a 3-1 margin.
A 90th minute substitution saw the Green and Maroons play the last few minutes of the match without any officially registered Under-23 player on the pitch, which goes against the IFA rules which mandate that every team should have at least one registered Under-23 player on the field of play at all times, wearing a special armband to mark him as such. If a team fails to abide by this rule, the match is awarded to the other team by a 3-0 margin, along with all 3 points.
Forward Azharuddin Mallick was Bagan's denominated U-23 player and once he was substituted by Ram Malik, Tollygunge Agragami officials pointed out that there was no player wearing the U-23 armband on the pitch and registered their protest. They followed it up with a written complaint to IFA. The West Bengal football governing body is yet to take a final call on the matter, but indications suggest Bagan are set to lose their hard-earned 3 points.
Although Pankaj Moula, who was born in December 1992 (22 years old; IFA defines U-23 player as born on or after 1-1-1992) played the entire match, he has not been registered at the IFA office as an U-23 player, hence it is unlikely his presence will salvage the points for Mohun Bagan.
Before this controversy soured the day for Bagan, they had a pretty good day. After a couple of disappointing resutls, the team made a good comeback by dominating the game from early on and getting results.
Kean Lewis was given a place in the starting line up, and the impact was visible. The first goal came in the 3rd minute, through a chance and key pass created by him. Taking the ball in the midfield he darted ahead, passing the ball to Azharuddin on the right wing, who sent in the cross to Dudu, who put a relaxed finishing touch onto the ball. The speed of the whole thing left the Tollygunge defence without time to catch up.
Then 5 minutes later, Lalkamal Bhowmick let fly a long ranger which took the deflection off a defender's shoulder and soared into the inviting net as Jhantu, the Tollygunge keeper, watched helplessly.
As the game wore on, Tollygunge tried to gain control by keeping the ball to themselves as long as possible, but it never looked like they had a chance to get back at Bagan. The midfield was being dominated by Katsumi, Lalkamam and Kean Lewis. Chances kept coming Mohun Bagan's way; Katsumi's well-placed corner kick saw Azharuddin fail to head the ball in from close range, and Dude could not receive a sharp cross from the left wing from the Japanese midfielder. Tollygunge managed to invade their opponents' penalty box a couple of times; first Budhi lost his footing and the ball was cleared by a defender, then Imran failed to anticipate a pass from Ashim that could have seen him with a clear shot at an open net.
Then in the 43rd minute Dudu scored again. This time it was Kean Lewis who delivered the assist in the form of a golden pass straight to the Nigerian striker who put a one-touch finishing move on it to make it 3-0. It was his 2nd goal of the match, and 6th in this CFL campaign.
Towards the middle of the second half some chances came in Tollygunge's way. Surabuddin managed to get past the Bagan defence line with only Shilton Paul left to beat, but he messed it up. Then Ashim managed to send a great through ball to Adeleja, who made no mistake in putting it in. Tollygunge had got one back, with 70 minutes on the clock; not particularly worrying in terms of the game for the Mohun Bagan coach, but the defensive lapse exposed the inexperience that plagues their back four.
But it was the Bagan coach, Sanjay Sen, who was to deliver the final blow which turned it all around, and put a relegation-threatened Tollygunge Agragami in a position to potentially walk away with 3 points from this game.
After the match, as word of the U-23 debacle spread, speculation started on who to blame. Even though coach Sanjay Sen was initially blamed, later the pointing fingers moved to the team manager for the day, Mohun Bagan ex player and current administrator Bidesh Bose. It was alleged that he went into the game without a thorough knowledge of the tournament rules and thus failed to point out the mistake to the coach. The fallout from this could cost him future managerial assignments, although he is likely to retain his official position at the club.
If IFA decides to award all 3 points to Tollygunge, as it appears they will, it will come as a huge relief to the relegation threatened club, presently languishing at the bottom of the table with just 1 point from their previous 5 games.
Mohun Bagan would have gone up to 11 points from 6 matches, but if the points are taken away, they will be left with only 8; decidedly out of the title race. But they will still have one last opportunity to spoil the mood for their arch rivals East Bengal who appear to be running away with a 6th consecutive CFL title when they face each other on 6th September in the season's first Kolkata Derby.