East Bengal's painful wait of 1657 days for a Derby victory ended on Saturday as they trumped arch-rivals Mohun Bagan 1-0 in the Durand Cup on Saturday.
The last time the red and gold band had beaten Bagan was in an I-League clash on January 27, 2019.
Since then, it has been Mohun Bagan all the way. I-League or ISL, Mohun Bagan or ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal just forgot what it takes to get that winning feeling.
On Saturday at the Salt Lake Stadium, East Bengal, now sporting the Emami prefix, finally managed to buck the trend. The 1-0 result in the Durand Cup Group A clash will definitely set the tone for the new season. The message was clear: East Bengal would give expensively-assembled Mohun Bagan Super Giant a hard time this season.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Sixty minutes into the match, Nandhakumar Sekar, who had a penchant for making life miserable for the red and gold brigade during his time with Chennai City FC and Odisha FC, scored a gem of a goal to stun the pre-match favourites.
Bagan's new recruit Anirudh Thapa fumbled with a loose ball and Nandhakumar latched onto it. Thapa retreated quickly but the 27-year-old from Chennai had other ideas. He broke free and fooled Thapa with a body feint before unleashing a left-footed curling shot that crashed into the far corner of the Bagan goal, giving goalkeeper Vishal Kaith no chance.
It took a moment for the players and the East Bengal fans to realise what they had just witnessed. Nandhakumar ran towards the East Bengal stands, the fans' joy knew no bounds.
It was his first goal for his new club and could not have come on a stage bigger than this. The flame was burning bright, East Bengal were leading.
Carles Cuadrat, East Bengal's new coach, drilled one thing into his players' heads. Do not get intimidated by the big names of Bagan. So Harmanjyot Singh Khabra did not yield an inch, Naorem Mahesh Singh tormented Asish Rai every time he had the ball, Mandar Rao Dessai fought valiantly and the likes of Saul Crespo, Borja Herrera, goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh Gill stood up to the challenge.
Bagan coach Juan Ferrando threw everything he had at his rivals. Hugo Boumous, Armando Sadiku started, Dimitri Petratos and Jason Cummings came on as substitutes, Sahal Abdul Samad also got a Derby feel. But East Bengal were not ready to give in.
The skies opened up in the last few minutes. But that could not stop fans from breaking the barricades and rushing in to fall at the players' feet as soon as referee Harish Kundu blew the final whistle.
It was surely East Bengal's evening.