Sena Ralte won the BFC fans over with a goal on debut, as Bengaluru began their I-League defence with a 3-0 win over Shillong Lajong.
When the line-ups of Bengaluru FC were announced out loud there was a pattern. The last name had to be completed by the crowd. While you would expect Sunil Chhetri and Eugenson Lyngdoh to get the loudest cheers, debutant on the night Sena Ralte had decibels on the upside too with the other new boys Harmanjot Khabra and Lenny Rodrigues getting a slightly lower reception.
The energy showed by the crowd seemed to have transformed Sena Ralte's energy on the pitch as he finished the night with a clean sheet and a goal to his name. He fitted seamlessly into the left-back position earlier occupied by Nishu Kumar under coach Albert Roca and scored a cracker of a goal that left the crowd wanting for more.
"I'm happy for Ralte and also for all the others. It was not easy, but they have proved that they can play with us. It was the first game, the sessions were good, but the race has just started. We have to still improve, but to win the first game I'm happy," head coach Albert Roca said after the game.
Ralte combined well with Chhetri on the left, defended strongly and was always lively in attack. If it wasn't for a couple of heavy passes, he would have either scored or set up goals as early as the 10th minute. His late goal was the reward for his industrious performance and it was one to remember. The 10,000 spectators in the Kanteerava stadium sang his name in unison afterwards and Bengaluru FC opened their I-league campaign with an emphatic win.
Roca had mentioned before the game that he would miss Alvaro Rubio's ball distribution. But after his first league game in-charge, the Spaniard would be happy with what he saw of Lenny Rodrigues who almost, if not perfectly, fit into the holding position. Lenny was not outstanding, average to say the least, but managed to keep the game ticking and helped keep the ball on the ground. It also helped that Shillong Lajong were virtually invisible in the middle, allowing Lenny to play with less pressure. Even so, BFC's new boy would be content with his debut.
Harmanjot Khabra's case is slightly different. A defensive midfielder by choice, Khabra was slotted in the right-back position and as expected, it was not a fairy-tale debut. It would have been worse had he faced a tougher opposition as Khabra was not clinical and often indecisive in an unfamiliar position. There was an instance when he tried to get into the box to have a shy at goal, but his effort was wayward, following which he got an earful from center-back John Johnson, who shouted, 'Do not leave this place,' when the right-back returned to his position.
All three of Bengaluru FC's debutants had mixed days on the pitch, and with a packed January ahead of them, Roca has a lot to ponder over when he meets tougher opposition. Roca, however is not worried about the fixture crunch and just wants to enjoy the win for the moment while giving the players a message to keep competing for a place in the team.
"At the moment I want to celebrate the game," Roca said. "Tomorrow we will see how they are. We have a big squad and we have to take advantage of all the players. Sure, there might be injuries and it might take them a month to recover, but for now I just want them to be in good shape and focused. When you win a game like this, everybody is looking for his best opportunity. They have to be in good condition, it is important for them to be aware of that," he said.
While young Udanta Singh grabbed the headlines for his wonderful brace, it was Sena Ralte who made his memorable debut sweeter when the crowd made him feel like a home boy. The others have their work cut out, but as Shillong's coach said in reply to a question on where he sees the team finishing in the league - "it's just the first match of the season."