Prominent in the tifo slung from a section of the stands behind CK Ubaid’s goal were 1889, the year of Mohun Bagan’s birth. If the home team’s fans thought it would intimidate Gokulam Kerala FC, founded in 2017, they had another think coming.
That is because in Trinidad and Tobago striker Marcus Joseph, Gokulam Kerala FC had a leader who had set himself a target of 15 goals in the 129th Durand Cup. He didn’t get there but 11 goals in five games were enough for the newbies to win their first title outside Kerala, slaying East Bengal and Mohun Bagan en route.
Before fetching up last January, Joseph had scored a hattrick at the Ato Boldon Stadium in 2018 that helped W Connection win the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League. Like here, he was the top scorer with 18 goals.
With two goals on either side of half-time, Joseph helped Gokulam Kerala FC beat Mohun Bagan 2-1 and win their first Durand Cup. Ubaid’s spilling a headed effort from Salva Chamorro in the 64th minute led to a spell of pressure from Mohun Bagan, who by then had sacrificed central defender Fran Morante for muscle in the midfield in Fran Gonzalez. Though Gonzalez’s back-heel could have made it 2-2 in the 84th , Mohun Bagan could not impose themselves against a team that played with three central defenders, sat deep and looked to hit on the counter.
As time ran out, Morante saw a red card from the bench after protesting against referee Ajitkumar Meitei’s decision to ignore claims of a penalty when a VP Suhair shot hit Gokulam Kerala FC centre-back Mohamed Irshad.
So, like in the 2018 Santosh Trophy final which Bengal lost on penalties, this trophy too went to Kerala. Even after Gokulam Kerala FC played with 10 men from the 86th minute, following a second booking for central defender Jestin George. “Crazy game,” said Mohun Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna.
It was in 1997 that FC Kochin, which like a host of clubs have since downed shutters, gave Kerala its only Durand Cup. Then too, Mohun Bagan had finished second-best, bowing to a masterclass from IM Vijayan. This time, they fell to a Saturday evening show from Joseph who grew up in Point Fortin, the smallest borough in Trinidad and Tobago.
Joseph’s first goal came from a 45th minute penalty. Goalkeeper Debjit Majumder fouled Henry Kisekka after Mohun Bagan were gobsmacked by a transition that had Joseph freeing Kisekka on goal. A low left-footer and most among the 43,000 in the stands were silenced. “The key aspect of the match was that goal,” said Vicuna.
The second, in the 51st, was a solo effort and again it stemmed from Mohun Bagan being caught on the break. Left wingback Huidrom Singh beat Ashutosh Mehta and blindsided Lalchhawnkima before freeing Joseph who ran in at Majumder’s goal and slotted another left-footer.
“We have shown Mohun Bagan and East Bengal that we don’t fear them and that we are a big team as well,” said Joseph after obliging requests to do a Dwayne Bravo ‘Champions’ dance at the media conference.
Prior to Joseph’s arrival, Gokulam Kerala had issues with strikers after Antonio German left via a social media post and Joel Sunday’s form went south. They had also lost Kisekka to Mohun Bagan. If Gokulam Kerala saved relegation, it was thanks in the main to Joseph’s seven goals in nine games.
“My target now is to win the golden boot in the I-League and help Gokulam win that too,” said Joseph.
At Friday’s pre-match media conference, Gokulam Kerala FC’s coach Fernando Valera had said: “I have Argentine blood and I know that one man does not win you games.” On Saturday, as he unfurled Argentina’s blue-and-white shirt to the whir of cameras, Joseph sat next to him with the Durand Cup’s Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.
Aug 24, 2019 20:04 IST