In the end, the sheer quality of Mohun Bagan Super Giant was too much for Punjab FC. With goals from Jason Cummings, Dimitri Petratos and Manvir Singh, the defending champions of the Indian Super League (ISL) ran out 3-1 winners against the newbies. Luca Majcen’s goal, a gift from the home team, was all the visitors got on Saturday.
Even for a team that had a Mohamed Salah but as left back, starting the ISL campaign against Mohun Bagan was always going to a severe test of character. Punjab FC had won the I-League at a canter, notching up 52 points – the first team in 10 seasons to cross 50 points – winning 16 of their 22 games and losing only two.
But this was different. They were ceding space and possession easily and looking soft across the Salt Lake stadium pitch. It allowed Petratos the freedom to roam and Liston Colaco the opportunity to find the form that had deserted him last season.
In a season where Ashique Kuruniyan is unlikely to be available because of injury, Colaco’s return to form would be exactly what Mohun Bagan need.
There will be sterner tests but the swivel Colaco produced to assist Petratos for the second goal after timing his run well to meet a clever pass from Cummings, the strong run down the left soon after which ended with the Goan testing goalie Kiran Limbu and slotting in as left-back after Mohun Bagan substituted Subhasish Bose for Manvir Singh will ensure fewer creases on coach Juan Ferrando’s perennially furrowed forehead. In Colaco he trusts, Ferrando had said on Friday. The faith was reposed on the pitch.
By the 35th minute, Mohun Bagan were 2-0 up and Hector Yuste could have added a third at the stroke of half-time. This was markedly different from the wobbly start of last season when they had squandered a lead to lose 1-2 to Chennaiyin FC. Cummings had put them ahead in the 10th minute after Glan Martins, Ashish Rai and Sahal Abdul Samad combined to ensure that all the Australian needed was a tap-in.
Punjab FC pushed up at the start of the second half and were rewarded with Majcen’s goal that came because of a momentary lapse of reason from Martins who possibly hadn’t sighted the Slovenian who spent three seasons in the I-League, which included 16 goals for Punjab FC last term, before getting a chance in the top tier.
Martins’ backpass was snatched by Majcen in the 53rd minute and Prassanth Karuthadathkuni thought he had equalised in the 61st minute with a header off a Juan Mera free-kick but was ruled off-side, an excellent call by assistant referee Christopher Peter.
Manvir’s smart flick after a well-timed run in the 63rd minute, two minutes after coming on, restored normal service. Samad was at the centre of that goal, running down the middle and finding Petratos on the left. By the time Petratos, Mohun Bagan’s second Australian on the park Brendan Hamill being the third, looked up, Manvir was running into the area showing the striker’s instinct India head coach Igor Stimac, now fighting a survival battle in the Asian Games, would have been happy given all the international engagements this season.
With Anirudh Thapa suspended for his red card in the Durand Cup final, Mohun Bagan started with Martins and Samad in the middle. With Martins comfortable in defensive duties in the way Thapa is often not – he plays further up the park for India and was in that position in all those seasons with Chennaiyin FC – Samad could move up and ended the evening with an assist and helping set up the third goal after holding off two challenges.