Defending champions East Bengal put up a spirited second-half show to pull back from a two-goal deficit and hold Mohun Bagan 2-2 in the local league derby at a packed Saltlake Stadium in Kolkata on Sunday.
Eyeing their first Calcutta Football League Premier Division A title since 2010, the Mariners struck twice — Pintu Mahata and Henry Kisseka — inside 30 minutes to dominate the proceedings, despite the presence of Costa Rican World Cupper Johnny Acosta who made his debut in red and gold colours.
But just before the change over, Acosta finally made his presence felt to pull one back in the 45+1 minute, while Laldanmawia Ralte brought the equaliser in the 60th minute in front of 65,000-plus crowd in the season’s first derby.
The result meant that East Bengal are yet to win in last seven derbies and it’s a setback to their title aspirations.
Both teams now have 20 points each from eight matches and a same goal difference (+13) but Mohun Bagan are ahead having scored more goals (16), compared to East Bengal’s 14.
While all eyes were on Acosta, it was a 21-year-old Pintu Mahato from the erstwhile Maoist hotbed Jangal Mahal area in West Midnapore district who took the spotlight drawing the first blood with his bullet like shot in the 20th minute.
A product of Mohun Bagan’s youth system, Mahato converted Arijit Bagui’s cross from the right with precision, as East Bengal looked in disarray.
Mohun Bagan showed mobility in the midfield and another lesser known player, Bagui, who was roped in from Kalighat MS, assisted in their second goal scored by Henry Kisseka in the 30th minute.
Receiving the ball from Bagui from the right-flank, the Ugandan unleashed a ferocious drive that beat both Acosta and Mehtab Singh to hit the back of the net.
Having re-arranged their central defence to accommodate Acosta, East Bengal’s defence struggled before Acosta finally made his presence felt, scoring from a rebound off his second attempt in a goalmouth melee.
Laldanmawia Ralte finally restored parity with a curling corner by Lalrindika Ralte which was somehow saved by Shilton Paul but the former slotted the ball home from the rebound.
It was a lackluster day for Mohun Bagan star striker Dipanda Dicka, who is the league’s leading scorer with seven goals, as the Cameroonian failed to find the target on several occasions.