Mohun Bagan couldn't finish the job they were out to do this season. The Mariners, winners of the I-League title last year, lost the championship to Bengaluru FC this year.
It was at the Kanteerava in Bengaluru exactly around a year ago that the Kolkata giants made history with a draw against the home team in the final game of the I-League last season. Fast forward a year, and Bengaluru FC got the job done, comfortably getting past Salgaocar FC to make history at home with their second I-League trophy in three years.
BFC are not done yet, as they take on Mohun Bagan for their final game of the current domestic season at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on April 23. AIFF officials may have felt history could repeat itself in the 2015-16 I-League as well when they designed the fixtures.
Even fans and critics had similar thoughts, but unfortunately Mohun Bagan kept slumping and Bengaluru FC took advantage of that.
Following 11 I-League games this season, the Mariners looked set to defend the title as they were incredibly without a defeat and the crunch Indian football schedule did not dent their perfomances even a bit in AFC Cup 2016. Mohun Bagan were definitely enjoying the "favourites" tag, but that's when the underdogs struck.
I-League newcomers Aizawl FC bagged a shock win over the Mariners during their home match in Mizoram, and that's when, everything came crashing down for the Kolkata powerhouses. It could be the ban slapped on Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen or the crunch schedule or even the unavailability of key players, but the flaws in Bagan's game started becoming more prominent.
Mohun Bagan lost to East Bengal in a thrilling Kolkata derby in their next I-League fixture, and that was it. The damage was done. They were unable to record a win in any of their next two fixtures, and Ashley Westwood's army made perfect use of the opportunity to get the title back to Bengaluru.
"I think there was a sense of complacency," Mohun Bagan legend Jose Barreto told Goal. "Sony Norde's injury was crucial as well as he was winning games for them. He was a very important player for them.
"The last four matches they didn't win and dropped points. One of the games which I saw was against Shillong Lajong and I didn't like the way they played. I feel the players didn't give their 100 per cent in that match," the veteran goal poacher added.
According to a report, Norde, who was one of the most influential players for Mohun Bagan in their I-League win last year, was made to play forcibly in the Kolkata derby at Siliguri this month. The Haitian winger had just got back from international duty and was already nursing an injury. The decision by the club officials has now possibly forced the player to rethink staying back at Bagan for a third season.
The Mariners are down, but they are not out. They can still muscle up and put their focus back on the AFC Cup 2016 where they are on top. Their I-League title defence may not have been successful, but there are other things the club has to turn its attention to â€” instilling confidence in players, getting the team morale back and getting back up when it matters the most.