Kolkata: If the saying that strikers win games but defenders a championship holds good in the 2019-20 I-League, the signs look ominous for Mohun Bagan. Their frontline missed a glut of chances against Churchill Brothers at the Kalyani Municipality Stadium here on Sunday and the performance of the backline and goalkeeper hovered between the slipshod and the shambolic. “The feeling in the change room is that we lost the match, they didn’t win it. That is the worst feeling to have,” said Kibu Vicuna, the Mohun Bagan coach after the 2-4 defeat which took Churchill Brothers to the top of the standings after two wins.
Vicuna also said Mohun Bagan would be shopping in the January transfer window. Even before the crowd at settled in, Willis Plaza wandered in and flicked Churchill Brothers ahead, off Dawda Cessay’s delivery from the left.
“We had worked on cutting supply to Plaza three days in a row but football is about moments and we let our concentration slip,” said Vicuna.
The signs of a leaky defence were evident against Aizawl FC and in the Durand Cup earlier; confirmation came in the 28th minute when Robert Primus, Plaza’s compatriot, headed home unchallenged Ceesay’s corner-kick. This was minutes after Vinil Poojary had turned Daneil Cyrus the wrong way and forced Mohun Bagan’s goalie Debjit Majumder into making a reflex save.
Francisco Gonzales’ 32nd minute penalty, after Nongdamba Naorem was felled by Kalif Alhassan, made it 1-2 but whatever life Mohun Bagan breathed into the contest was snuffed out by a Majumder clanger. From 25 yards, the Mohun Bagan goalie let slip a Plaza drive through his hands in the 38th minute. “That goal was like a hammer blow to the head,” said Vicuna.
Majumder’s error was symptomatic of how poor Mohun Bagan were at the back where Cyrus looked unsure and slow. The tall central defender, also a Trinidad and Tobago international, was ball watching for the second and fourth goals.
Majumder too could not be absolved of blame for the last goal for not being able to fist Israel Gurung’s delivery before Churchill Brothers’ central defender Radanfah Abubakr leapt higher and got the header.
“We capitalized on their mistakes,” said Churchill Brothers coach Fernando Tavares. “Everytime they came into the box, they looked like scoring,” said Vicuna.
Churchill Brothers had made it 4-1 in the 76th minute and soon after, Mohun Bagan supporters were seen streaming out. Subha Ghosh’s 90th minute blast from close reduced the margin but not the misery. After two rounds, Kolkata’s Big Two, who between them have one I-League title, are yet to win a game this season.
Both have been readying for it before the Calcutta League began in July. Between then and now, Mohun Bagan have played over 20 competitive games. Churchill Brothers, according to owner Churchill Alemao, have played two — one under Tavares who said his team will need to work on fitness.
So it was understandable that Churchill Brothers would have less of possession and that Mohun Bagan would expose frailties on the left side of the defence, especially in the second half.
With Spaniards Julen Colinas and Joeba Beitia working between the lines, Mohun Bagan looked the better team between the 18-yard boxes. Churchill Brothers’ young goalie Mohammed Jafar Mondal denied PM Britto in the eighth minute whose shot forced a goalline save from Abubakr in first-half stoppage time. Mondal also rescued his team with two saves from close in the 20th minute, off Gonzales and VP Suhair.
Salva Chamorro missed connecting three deliveries in the first 20 minutes of the second half. In between Ashutosh Mehta blasted over after cutting in from the right.
“Not being able to score has been a problem. Work. It is the only thing that can improve this. I believe in the team and we have enough time to turn things around,” said Vicuna.