December 21, 1997
MUMBAI, Dec 20: Anthony Fernandes’ goal that spelt a 1-0 defeat for Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan brought coach Bimal Ghosh exactly what he wanted in Air-India’s Philips National Football League (NFL) opener at the Cooperage, today.
“A win at any cost” scripted by the resurgent striker in the 24th minute brought the Mumbai Super Division champions three points and Rs 25,000 incentive for notching three points.
A display based on strength and determination also brought the man-of-the-match award to international Jeevan Moras for a herculean role in defence.
But most of all, it provided the airmen the perfect boost in their trail to making amends for lowly sixth position in the inaugural NFL.
Fernandes’ strike was a celebration of Ghosh’s unrelenting faith in the striker, making a determined comeback after an injury-induced layoff.
And paving way for the goal was a close candidate for Moras’ award — mid-fielder Khenthang Paite — whose square pass prompted Fernandes to slot past a helpless Bagan goalkeeper Hemanto Dora mid-way through the first half.
Air-India’s good fortune was helped by what was to Bagan’s make-shift coach Haru Mondal a piece of “silly play” that gave away the goal.
Mohun Bagan played somewhat rudderless, with the services of coach Chathunni restrained by law. Mondal, stepping in for Chathunni, bemoaned the prodigality of his side that saw half-a-dozen chances frittered away.
A match, vigorously contested, almost ended in disaster as crowd misbehavior brooked apparently dangerous response from an Air-India player.
Missiles hurled at Air-India with just minutes left had substitute and skipper Taposh Ghosh hurling one back. Taposh claimed that he merely attempted to clear the turf of stones.
Whatever the reasons, Air-India, with a traumatic experience caused by crowd misbehavior last season, could do well to exercise restraint during incidents caused by partisan crowds.
Coach Ghosh, however, made a poignant point about security that might have proved woefully inadequate as the crowd turned menacing in the East Stand.
With all credit to Moras, who stifled the menacing Okerie, Paite’s omnipresence captivated the fair turnout today.
Okerie, older and slower, is still menacing and threatened with a long-ranger that sailed just inches over Shyam Sawant’s goal in the early moments. With the pace set by Bagan at the start with Bishwanath Mondal doing much of the running, it took a determined effort by the Mumbai side to stave off the Calcutta league champions’ ascendancy.
After Okerie threatened again with a left-footer, Fernandes struck after a quick switch of action just moments after he collided with Bagan wing-back Mondal.
Bagan almost drew parity in the 33rd minute when Amit Das crossed dangerously. Sawant, shaping confidently after a dismal Rovers Cup, slapped clear to deny Abdul Khalique, who leapt forward for the header.
Tales of missed chances in the second half affected Bagan more than Air-India. Goalline saves by Subir Sinha, Ajay Acharya and Moras in the dying minutes of play thwarted the Calcutta side.
But for all the missed opportunities by Mohun Bagan, Godfrey Pereira went closest with a nudge that sped just wide of Dora’s far post after the skillful substitute Abbas Ali Rizvi crossed from the left.
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