A brace from Katsumi Yusa and a goal from Darryl Duffy helped Mohun Bagan extend their unbeaten run of I-League matches against Bengaluru FC to six, as Bagan ran out 3-0 winners at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
The defeat also ended Bengaluru's chances of retaining the title they had won last season, though it kept both teams in the same place on the points table. While Bagan are third with 26 points from 13 matches, Bengaluru are on 18 from 14 games.
Katsumi opened the scoring for Bengaluru with a low drive from just outside the penalty box in the 14th minute, before Duffy converted a Sony Norde free-kick into a 2-0 lead in the 25th minute. Katsumi would get his second goal in the 53rd minute.
Sanjoy Sen of Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC's Albert Roca both prefer using a settled XI, and Saturday was no exception, although there were some changes in personnel, enforced in the case of the home side.
With Subhasish Bose unavailable for Sen owing to a red card picked up in the return fixture on March 11, there was a requirement both for the left-back as well as the mandatory Under-22 player, and those slots were picked up by Raju Gaikwad, and by Azharuddin Mallick, who played just behind Darryl Duffy in a typical 4-2-3-1.
In contrast, Bengaluru chose to rest Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, possibly keeping the AFC Cup match away to Maziya of Maldives on April 4 in mind, as Roca had indicated a day before the game. It didn't make him change his attacking 4-3-3, with as many as four Under-22 players in left-back Nishu Kumar, midfielder Malsawmzuala, and forwards Udanta Singh and Daniel Lalhlimpuia being used.
Bengaluru fall apart
Bengaluru were completely out of sorts for the first 45 minutes of the match. Without Chhetri to lead the line, there was a considerable lack of ideas when receiving the ball in advanced positions, but the bigger nub of the problem was with the lack of composure being shown in crucial positions.
There were needless fouls committed - though the visitors could have had a reason to be aggrieved that the first goal was scored even as Cameron Watson was lying on the pitch with an injury following a tackle on him - and at times, the BFC players looked like petulant children who were not getting what they thought they had come for.
Two central themes of the night for the visitors were chaos and misfortune. The chaos was heightened by an Alwyn George back pass in the 40th minute that was so poorly directed at goalkeeper Amrinder, it almost wound up as an own goal. The misfortune was evident in Bagan's third goal, a classic counterattack from a move that actually saw Bengaluru playing their best build-up in attack.
Young Malsawmzuala rode out a couple of challenges, and then found Vineeth to the left, whose cross was received by Udanta but with his back to the goal. The ball was taken from him, and the next time a Bengaluru player could catch up with it was when it was nestled in the net behind Amrinder.
An eye on the immediate future
This wasn't the first time that things haven't gone in favour of Bengaluru in a match this season, but what was different on Saturday was an impassive, almost nonchalant, non-reaction to it by Roca.
In previous matches, he has swapped the positions of players, changed formations or just brought in replacements to plug the gaps. At the Rabindra Sarobar, his first change was a like-for-like double switch in the 63rd minute, with Marjan Jugovic replacing Vineeth and Udanta making way for Mandar Rao Desai.
The two substitutes combined to create Bengaluru's best opportunity just four minutes later, but Mandar's header was parried away by Debjit on to his left post, and failed to fall to any visiting player on the rebound. There were no major changes in formation, either.
In fact, Roca seemed keen on trying a 4-4-2, with Daniel and Jugovic as the two strikers, and the introduction of Harmanjot Khabra into midfield only confirmed that theory. Sen stuck to his preferred way of operating, and both coaches perhaps played the second half with an eye on the AFC Cup matches in mid-week, where Bengaluru actually have the edge with a win in their opening game against Bagan.