Nandhakumar Sekar crowned as the newest hero as East Bengal wins Kolkata Derby after four years
Kolkata witnessed a colossal shock at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Saturday as East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan Super Giant by a 1-0 margin in a Group A encounter of the 2023 Durand Cup. New recruit Nandhakumar Sekar scored the only goal in a game where the Red and Golds won the Kolkata Derby after eight consecutive defeats at the senior level.
East Bengal head coach Carles Cuadrat slotted in skipper Harmanjot Singh Khabra at right-back today owing to Nishu Kumar’s suspension, while former Mariner Souvik Chakrabarti played in midfield. Meanwhile, Jordan Elsey, Saul Crespo, Borja Herrera and Javi Siverio were the four overseas players in the starting XI.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan head coach Juan Ferrando handed out debuts to Albanian striker Armando Sadiku and the former Chennaiyin captain, Anirudh Thapa. After recovering from an injury lay-off, Asish Rai also returned to the starting XI.
The Mariners had the better start to the game and could have taken the lead in only the 2nd minute when the two debutants combined beautifully. A pass from Thapa found Sadiku at the edge of the box, whose shot was narrowly wide.
The next few minutes were cagey, although East Bengal had a chance against the run of play in the 11th minute. A freekick by Khabra found Elsey completely unmarked, but the Australian centre-back could not utilise the chance.
That opportunity injected confidence in the red and gold camp, as another glorious chance arrived in the 18th minute. After beating his marker, Naorem Mahesh Singh found Siverio inside the box, but the Spaniard’s shot was deflected for a corner by Brendan Hamill. The ping pong game continued as only 3 minutes later, it was Mohun Bagan’s turn to squander an opportunity. A pass from Sadiku found Hugo Boumous in acres of space with only Elsey and Prabhsukhan Gill ahead of him, but his powerful effort was not on target.
A period of stagnation followed, but the match sprung to life at the very end of the first half, when Liston Colaco almost dribbled past Khabra before being brought down. Despite the freekick being taken from a dangerous position, Boumous’ cross was comfortably parried away by an alert Gill.
The second half had a similar start where Mohun Bagan did dominate possession, but they could not breach the East Bengal backline. With nothing working for his team, central defender Anwar Ali saw Gill off his line and went for a long-range shot, but his audacious attempt clipped the crossbar and went out.
The major shock arrived for the Mariners when a delightful counter-attack caught Ferrando’s defense napping. A ball from the deep saw Nandhakumar in acres of space down the right flank, with Mohun Bagan’s left-back Subhasish Bose being in an advanced position. The former Odisha winger then did an excellent job by threading his shot past both Thapa and Vishal Kaith in goal, to give the Torchbearers a 1-0 lead.
The arrival of two other debutants, Jason Cummings and Sahal Abdul Samad, alongside Dimitri Petratos, did help Ferrando’s side dominate possession again, but Cuadrat’s defenders were resolute.
Australia international Cummings did get a chance to make himself a hero in only his first appearance when an attempted through ball took a deflection and found himself unmarked inside the box. However, the former Central Coast Mariners striker’s attempt was not good enough to be an equaliser for the Mariners from Kolkata.
In the 81st minute, Cummings took another left-footed shot which could have ended up at the back of the net, but a timely block from Elsey deflected it for a corner instead.
In another counter-attack, East Bengal could have scored their second goal just two minutes later when Nandhakumar played a defense-splitting through ball for substitute VP Suhair. But having gone missing in the first goal, Subhasish put on the afterburners to clear the danger on this occasion.
In the 89th minute, a lofted ball from Anwar almost provided Sahal with a scoring opportunity, but once again, Gill was alert for East Bengal. The last opportunity arrived in the 94th minute when a corner found Anwar unmarked at the near post, but the youngster could not keep his header on target.With this win, East Bengal has climbed to the second position in the Group A standings with 4 points in 2 games. They will now face Punjab on 16th August, whereas Mohun Bagan, who end their group stage campaign with 6 points and will now feature in the quarter-final stage.