A RELATIVELY EASY win for Mohun Bagan was made difficult by a double booking received by Subhasish Bose that reduced the Mariners to 10 men for 25 minutes against Churchill Brothers at Barasat.
The Mariners started off strong, keeping most of the ball and making repeated attacks. Churchill Brothers, for the little time they had to prepare for the season, seemed to have come in with a fairly clear defensive strategy, holding their shape and using zonal marking effectively to silence Katsumi Yusa and Darryl Duffy.
Captain Keenan Almeida and Kingslee Fernandes were putting in a good shift. Keenan got his head cut open early in the game but kept right at it, while Kingslee was practically a wall in the Churchill defence.
Yet some effective wing-play from Kean and Souvik saw Bagan come close a few times, until just before the half hour mark an overlapping Pritam Kotal found Balwant Singh with a brilliant cross from the right flank and an impeccably placed header from the striker went straight into the net.
In the second half Churchill Brothers started with a period of possession but still could not bear down on the Bagan defence. But all that changed when in quick succession Subhasish made two rash fouls on Seriton and got sent off. A man down, Sanjoy Sen chose to play for containment, making a couple of conservative changes.
It was about this time that Churchill began to assert themselves. A ball from Seriton found Debjit off his line but the former could not pull the trigger on time. And towards the end of the game Agnelo Colaco had the ball inside the Bagan box and let fly but found the crossbar. Katsumi Yusa had a chance to double the Mariners' lead but he was wrongly called offside.
It was a nervous last few minutes as Mohun Bagan played out the clock and got a 1-0 win. While the Mariners will be happy with the 3 points they got from the first game, their performance was far from convincing. Starting without 5 of their star players (Eduardo, Sony, Jeje, Raju Gaikwad, Pronay Halder), the expectations were not sky high from their first game; but the lack of coordination in the final third brought them down time and again. Darryl Duffy was participating in build-ups but seemed to be trigger-shy; something the fans would hope for him to overcome.
Meanwhile, Churchill Brothers would be happy with the tight knit gameplay they put on in the second half. Despite the loss, it's clear that the comeback club isn't here just for the sake of being here but are likely to be very competitive and maybe even upset a few big boys down the line. It will be interesting to see this team after they have spent a month or so together.
Here's how the whole match unfolded, narrated in blow-by-blow detail through our real time text commentary...