The small-town feel
Siliguri is a quaint town, and the Kanchenjunga Stadium lives up to the billing of the city. The structure is old and the galleries don't have seats. There's more of proximity with the playing arena in Siliguri than at Salt Lake, and that made for some interesting moments involving the fans. The one person who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely early on was the stadium emcee, who was reeling off statistics and welcoming the fans in chaste Bangla and English once given the microphone about two hours ahead of kick-off. The first sign that the gentleman is no keen Indian football watcher came when reading out the team names, though, as Jeje Lalpekhlua became "Jele Lafaklawala" in the first rendition. Jeje's name caused him great consternation all evening, so much so that the first substitution of East Bengal was registered simply as "number 24 out, Robin Singh. Number 21 in, T. Haokip".
The pre-match mind games
What's a derby without the customary mind games? To be fair, the Siliguri crowd was overwhelmingly skewed in favour of East Bengal, who had come wearing all kinds of red and gold colours all over. Mohun Bagan fans had tucked into a quarter of the stands, to the right of the VIP area, and were quiet and respectful of the majority to begin with. The East Bengal fans across the field had huge cutouts with the words 'E', 'B' and one shaped like a heart, which they kept circulating among themselves to keep the cheers coming.
It was then that the Mohun Bagan supporters unfurled a massive white banner which engulfed fans across two whole stands, accompanying it with sparklers that let out green and maroon smoke, making most of the journalists in the open media gantry gag up for a bit.
The tactical stalemate
Between Trevor Morgan and Sanjoy Sen, there's a perception that Sen is the greater tactician while Morgan is the superior man manager. It was therefore, of interest to find a very conservative strategy employed by both teams on the night. Sen preferred to play what could be described nearly as a 4-2-4, with Katsumi Yusa, Jeje, Darryl Duffy and Sony Norde left to fend virtually for themselves all alone. Pronay Halder and Souvik Chakraborti rarely made any forays into the opposition half, and the full-backs Subhasish Bose and Pritam Kotal also only went forward when there were set-pieces to be had.
East Bengal, on the other hand, were switching formations frequently, starting out with a 4-1-3-2 where Mehtab sat in front of the back four and allowed Wedson Anselme to provide more thrust up front. The first switch which they employed often was to flatten out to a 4-4-2, with Mehtab dropping into a centre-back role and allowing Rahul Bheke to play on the right wing, helping Nikhil Poojary play a more central role.
In the second half, Morgan tried out a 3-5-2, which helped the home side dominate the midfield up to the hour mark. In this formation, both Mehtab and Narayan Das went forward to cloud the midfield and allowed Anselme to play just behind the two strikers. This was the phase when they had their best chances. Towards the latter part of the half, Haokip played in the centre in a virtual 4-3-3, with Bagan stretched at the back. Through all of Morgan's experiments, Sen maintained a stoic 4-2-2-2 formation, with the front four just ensuring that East Bengal were mindful of their presence, but beyond that asking few questions of the opposition defence.
The star of the night
The Player-of-the-Match award was bagged by TP Rehenesh, and deservedly so, because he was a calm influence in the East Bengal goal, especially in the first half when Mohun Bagan appeared to create a few openings to put pressure on the hosts.
But the best outfield player on the pitch, by far, was Wedson Anselme of East Bengal. Anselme is a big presence in midfield, but also combines it with a canny brain and some phenomenal skills. Anselme was the only attacking threat for East Bengal in the first half an hour, and he grew in confidence as the match went on. He would provide two great passes in the game where he completely fooled his marker by passing with his planted foot, and yet managed to get the correct weight on both.
Anselme was also relentless in his personal battle with fellow-Haitian Sony Norde, riding a couple of Norde challenges to keep possession at one stage in the second half. Sen was forced to take Norde off, and the man who's arguably the most popular Mohun Bagan star showed his disappointment by flinging a chair away and sitting in a corner within the dugout. Norde had been outperformed and outskilled by an opposition player, something that doesn't happen too often in Indian football.
The game of fans
There was passion, and unapologetic levels of that, on display at the Kanchenjunga Stadium. A day before the game, Sen had said at the press conference, "Indian football is alive and kicking because of these two teams". On Sunday there were at least 30,000 women, children and men in an outpost of northern Bengal to prove that.
As the game ebbed and flowed through the 90 minutes, there were reactions coming in from all over the ground. Before the game, and even after, there was a lot of chat about whether playing so many derby debutants was a risk for both coaches. The players concerned would have enjoyed the words of encouragement that came throughout.
The last word belonged to a portly gentleman in a shirt stitched alternately in maroon and green colours, when calling out to a friend, as both waited near the stadium gate for the coaches and players to emerge after the match. "Ei baar chhede dilaam. Kolkata-te shood shomet pherot nebo kintu. (We let you off this time. We'll take everything back with interest in Kolkata)."