In its 100th year, the mighty Kolkata derby, for the second time in a row, was played in a novel yet strange setting of the ISL - in front of an empty Fatorda Stadium in Goa, giving a touch of eeriness to this passionate encounter. Yet, even if the game was devoid of emotions injected by the crowd, on the pitch, the lack of tension or zeal was not an issue. In fact, it can be argued that large chunks of the game were characterized by emotion instead of tactical nous or technical brilliance. But then again, there was ATK Mohun Bagan’s Roy Krishna and, to an extent, SC East Bengal’s Bright Enobakhare that challenged this notion.
Coming into the game, the stakes were high for the Red and Gold Brigade, but they were even higher for their arch-rivals. Robbie Fowler’s team had the opportunity to avenge the loss inflicted upon them in the reverse fixture and earn some bragging rights, while the Mariners not only had the chance to rub the noses of their bitter rivals by doing a double over them but also gain a temporary five-point lead at the top over Mumbai City FC, and make significant inroads towards securing that holy AFC Champions League spot.
The new signings that SC East Bengal made had definitely improved their performances in 2021. The acquisition of Bright especially had majorly enhanced the Red and Gold Brigade’s attacking prowess. Their opponents, though, entered this fixture on the back of four consecutive wins and at the peak of their powers.
As early as in the 6th minute, the Mariners felt that they should have gone ahead. It was David Williams who stole the ball in his attacking half from Sarthak Golui, and the move concluded with Subhasish Bose delivering a delicious cross from the left flank which was glanced on by Krishna, but Manvir Singh wasn’t alive enough to provide the finishing touch at the far post.
In the 11th minute, Bright embarked on a bedazzling run that was a thing of beauty. He collected the ball on the left side of his own half, dribbled past a couple of ATKMB players before beating Tiri with ease, and winning a corner with his deflected shot. Fowler’s team had scored 47% of their goals from set-pieces but couldn’t take advantage of this situation.
As if taking inspiration from his counterpart, Krishna, produced his own magical moment as he broke the deadlock in the 15th minute. Tiri’s long ball exposed SCEB’s high-line and, Krishna, running in behind the back three, outran all of them, teased Subrata Paul into committing a tackle before dribbling past him and slotting it home in the empty net with his right foot. With this goal, the league’s leading goalscorer extended his goal streak to six matches and took his overall tally to 14.
After the goal, the Red and Gold Brigade had a hard time dealing with the pressing of the terrifying attacking trio of Krishna, Williams, and Marcelo Pereira. There were other occasions when the Mariners breached SCEB’s high defensive line, especially in the 38th minute when Carl McHugh’s incisive pass released Krishna, who only managed to rattle the side-netting this time.
The physicality of the Mariner’s backline became another troubling factor for Fowler’s team to cope with. The likes of Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri were getting under the skin of Anthony Pilkington and Bright to nullify their threat.
However, after the cooling break, SCEB, despite their unsettled buildup play, succeeded in gathering momentum through a flurry of set-pieces, especially Raju Gaikwad's long throw-ins, and it was one such throw-in in the 41st minute that caused a defensive mix-up between Jhingan and Tiri, with the latter heading the ball in his own net.
After SCEB’s equalizer, the erstwhile drizzle turned into full-fledged rain, and the game acquired a disoriented, sloppy characteristic. The teams went into the halftime break level on 1-1.
After returning in the second half, the disoriented nature of the match continued where neither team dominated or created any significant chances continued until the Mariners decided to turn up the heat when the game approached the 70-minute mark. ATK Mohun Bagan are a team that thrives when the game gets stretched, and the fact that 21 out of their 26 goals have come in the second half is a testament to that.
As a result of the constant offensive pressure, Krishna forced Daniel Fox into committing a mistake, intercepted his pass near the box, and assisted Williams, who found the bottom corner with his slick finish and scored his third goal of the season. With this, he also ensured that the Mariners grab all three points because it’s a fact that whenever David Williams scores in the ISL, his side wins.
The creative side of things didn’t look pretty for the Red and Gold Brigade throughout the game but akin to the first half there was another singular moment when Bright decided to wave his magic wand. In the 86th minute, the Nigerian received Jacques Maghoma’s ball near the half-line on the left side of the pitch. From there, first, he made a fool out of Pritam Kotal, then he outpaced Tiri, reached the byline, and forced a save out of Arindam Bhattacharja at his near post.
Following SCEB’s chance, in the 89th minute, the Mariners killed the game in the truest sense of the word. Javi Hernandez chased down Manvir’s clearance, headed it to Krishna, who returned the favor to Javi by providing him with a well-weighted, pitch-perfect cross from the right flank. The Spanish midfielder leaped above the defenders and caressed the ball into Paul’s goal with his head.
After this victory, with 39 points, Antonio López Habas’ side sit pretty at the top of the pile, and even though their remaining games are potential blockbusters against the third-placed Hyderabad FC and the second-placed Mumbai City FC, it would be difficult to bet against them finishing in the first position, especially given the kind of form that they are in.