And when East Bengal’s moment of truth arrived at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday, it already started raining heavily and hundreds of red-and-gold fans breaching security cordons stormed the field, dancing and singing with Carles Cuadrat and his players.
The last time East Bengal won a derby against Mohun Bagan, back on January 27 in 2019 — it was a time when the world was unaware of the onset of a pandemic and I-League was still the top-flight league in Indian football.
Since then, Mohun Bagan — with new names and new identities — emerged the daddy of the derby, extending their record winning run to eight matches across all tournaments. On Saturday, East Bengal FC finally put the hurt of more than four years to bed in a massive odds-defying show and riding a spectacular goal.
The match entered the hour mark and as Javier Siverio found Nandhakumar Sekar with a pinpoint diagonal ball and once Anirudh Thapa failed to intercept it, the move was infused with sudden possibilities. Thapa regrouped himself and threw another challenge at Nandha. But the East Bengal winger was already in the mood of scripting the game-defining act. He swiveled past Thapa and unleashed a left-footed piledriver from the edge of the box. The ball swerved, away past a fully-stretched Mohun Bagan SG goalkeeper Vishal Kaith and settled into the top corner.
It took a few seconds for the red-and-golds stands behind the goal to realize what had just transpired. Then came the joy, the roar and the inspiration to get the monkey off their back.
East Bengal’s 1-0 win has now thrown open Group A of the ongoing Durand Cup. While Juan Ferrando’ Mohun Bagan finished the group engagements with two wins and one loss, East Bengal can advance to quarterfinals as group winners provided they beat Punjab FC in the next match.
It was a match that hardly wore the look of a spectacle. Mohun Bagan had the quality in the attacking third, but Cuadrat made his line-up in such a way that it possessed the strength of mind and body to resist the opposition.
Neither of the full-backs — Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Mandar Rao Desai — ventured out and Souvik Chakraborty was placed in front of the back four, given the job of nipping Bagan’s moves from the middle with relentless blocking and tackling.
Without a clear-cut chance in the first half, Mohun Bagan defender Anwar Ali did the spectacular, his long-range piledriver from his own box almost caught East Bengal custodian Prabhsukhan Gill off guard.
It was perhaps a reminder that the game was screaming out for the attention of such ingenuity in altering the character and complexion of the contest.
Such a moment of inventiveness eventually came from the left foot of Nandhakumar in the 60th minute.
Stung by the reversal, Ferrando threw in Dimitri Petratos and Jason Cummings. Cummings came close to changing the plot. But East Bengal defence and Gill stayed alert on determined sentry duty.
Mohun Bagan kept trying but could not find their way to get close to rescuing something from the game as East Bengal inspired by self-belief went about breaking the derby jinx and making all the right noises this time for a change.