The stage was set for Bashundhara Kings’ coronation. The newcomers of top-flight football had their travelling fans out in number at the stands and the club’s bosses dressed up at the VIP box, just waiting to start the title party at the Sylhet District Stadium last night.
The Independence Cup winners had brushed aside most of their opponents in their previous 20 matches of the league, dropping just a single point against 19 victories. They needed a win to be coronated the new champions of Bangladesh Premier League and become the second side after Sheikh Jamal to do so in their debut appearance in top-flight football.
But hosts Sheikh Russel KC had other ideas. Saiful Bari Titu’s charges, who had come into the game on the back of some indifferent form, looked a different side right from the start; determined to stop the Kings from partying at their home venue. And they pulled off what had seemed like an unthinkable outcome -- a first win against Bashundhara Kings -- thanks to some dogged defending, excellent custodianship from a stand-in keeper, most importantly and an opportunists’ strike from Azizov Alisher at the start of the second half.
The first half was a pretty even affair, with both sides struggling to impose authority in midfield. Chances were few and far between, and while the Kings were the more adventurous, Sheikh Russel were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure.
Daniel Colindres and Bakhtiyar Duishobekov -- two of the most influential players of Bashundhara Kings – were not at their best in this fixture and they created very little for their teammates in the first half. In fact the best chance of the half came to Valerie Gryshyn of Sheikh Russel, who raced on to a through-pass from a counter-attack right into the opposition box, only to have a feeble shot at Kings’ goalie Anisur Rahman.
But nine minutes into the second half, the complexion of the game changed when Alisher received a through-pass from the deep and manoeuvred into the Kings’ defence, with the defenders trying to regain position. The Uzbek midfielder took his time inside the box, sidestepped a defender and beat Anisur to his right to give the hosts an unlikely lead.
From there on, it was all about Bashundhara Kings revered forward line -- with Mahbubur Rahman Sufil and Matin Mia adding fresh legs – against Sheikh Russel’s miserly defence. Sufil failed to beat Sabuj Das from a one-on-one situation after the hour-mark before the stand-in goalkeeper made an acrobatic save to deny Duishobekov.
The Kyrgyz midfielder then had a header and a shot miss the target by a few yards before Marcos Vinicius saw his shot come off the post into the dying moments. It was not going to be Bashundhara Kings’ night, and as the final whistle was blown, the Sheikh Russel players burst into strong celebration for having inflicted the first defeat on their mighty opponents, ending their 14-match winning streak.
Despite the defeat, the Kings are still in pole position with 58 points from 21 matches, four points ahead of second-placed Abahani having played one match less. A win in either of their three remaining matches would hand them the title. Sheikh Russel, on the other hand, consolidated their third position with 45 points from 21 matches.