In beginning of the season, East Bengal were being touted as one of the firm favorites to lift the I-League title. However, with the red-and-golds involved in the AFC Cup, East Bengal had an inconsistent start to their league campaign. At one point, they thrashed Shillong Lajong 4-0 at the latter’s home. However, after a string of poor results, coach Marcos Falopa was shown the door, with former Dempo boss Armando Colaco installed as the new head coach. It is fair to say that Colaco has been able to get the East Bengal engine up and running once again in recent weeks. Sunday’s win over league leaders Bengaluru FC at the Bangalore Football Stadium has brought renewed belief that the club can finally break its I-League hoodoo and bring the title to Kolkata at the end of the season. Although there is still a long way to go before the league season ends, East Bengal’s win at Bengaluru has hinted at an extremely close title race this season, with as many as six clubs in with a strong chance of taking home the country’s biggest football honor.
The game began with the visitors seeing more of the ball. It took a finger-tip save from on-loan goalkeeper Soirei Anganba Poirei, to keep the scoreline at 0-0 in the early stages. The debutant custodian, however, was helpless when a brilliant ball by Raju Gaikwad put forward James Moga through on goal, and the South Sudanese made no mistake in slotting the ball into the back of the net. The red-and-golds piled on the pressure after doubling their lead, and it was Bengaluru custodian Poirei who was instrumental in keeping the score at 0-1. The visitors lost influential winger Lalrindika Ralte in the first half, but that didn’t stop them from controlling proceedings in first half.
After the breather, the hosts entered the field a changed team. With a goal behind in the game, Bengaluru FC employed a high line, and pressurized the East Bengal defence. The blues had ample chances to equalize, but were unlucky not to find the back of the net, with the wood frame and custodian Gurpreet coming to the visitors’ rescue on a couple of occasions. With the Bengaluru side heading to their first ever home defeat, a few sections of the home fans turned errant, and were seen throwing bottles towards the opposition players. The game had to be stalled for a few minutes due to the disturbances, and it was only after a few Bengaluru players requested the home crowd to calm down, that the game could once again be resumed.
The blues continued their push for an equalizer, but the visitors continued to frustrate the hosts’ attack. At the other end, meanwhile, Edeh Chidi dealt a sucker punch to the hosts, when he stunned the entire stadium with a brilliant finish from an extremely tight angle in the 78th minute. The goal silenced the home support, and East Bengal tried to see off the minutes by keeping things tight at the back. The blues constructed a few good attacks in the remaining few minutes, but weren’t allowed much time on the ball by the visitors. The game finished with the score at 2-0 in favour of East Bengal, who now climb to 5th position with 18 points from 11 games. Bengaluru FC, despite the defeat, remain at the top of the table with 27 points from 14 games. With only one round of games to go before the I-League sides head into the Federation Cup, morale will be high in the East Bengal camp. With Armando Colaco steering the club, which already boasts of one of the best squads in the country, few would bet against East Bengal’s chances of winning the title this season.
Elsewhere, Sporting Clube de Goa sent a strong message out to their title rivals by absolutely demolishing a strong Shillong Lajong side, by a scoreline of 5-1 at home. The visitors had taken the lead courtesy of Taisuke Matsugae early on in the first half, but the hosts equalized only a few minutes later through midfielder Ogba Kalu. The Flaming Oranje then produced an attacking masterclass, as they struck thrice in the first 22 minutes of the second half, with Ogba Kalu completing his hattrick, to end any hopes of a Lajong comeback. Victorino Fernandes then hit the nail in the visitors’ coffin in the closing stages, as Sporting remained in second in the table, with 24 points from 13 games. Lajong, meanwhile, fell to 4th with 20 points from 14 games.
Rangdajied United were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Mumbai FC, with the hosts being controversially denied a win after Edmar Figueira’s shot in the 65th minute, which seemed to have crossed the line, was deemed to have remained outside the line by the officials. The blues dominated the game for the better parts of the game, and would be cursing their luck for failing to come out with all 3 points. They remain second-bottom of the table, with 12 points from 14 games, and 4 points behind Mumbai FC.
Mohun Bagan’s already sinking title chances were dealt another crucial blow, after the green-and-maroons were beaten by a solitary goal at home by Dempo SC. Holicharan Narzary scored the only goal of the game, as Dempo climbed to 9th place, with 16 points from 14 games. Bagan, who were denied a penalty in the first half, after Narayan Das had appeared to have handled a Chris Chizoba cross, remain at 10th position.
A Mustapha Riga first-half brace was enough to sink United SC at the Kalyani on Saturday. The hosts pulled a goal back courtesy of Hassan Moustapha in the second half, but the visitors held on for a crucial win. The Red Lizards remain in 3rd with 24 points from 13 games, while United SC have 18 points from 14 games. In another game, Chuchill Brothers thrashed Mohammedan Sporting 3-1, with Lenny Rodrigues scoring a screamer in the 51st minute to help his team register their second win in the league. The defending champions remain at the bottom of the table, but have played a game less than fellow strugglers Rangdajied United. Mohammedan meanwhile reacted in the only way their officials know, dismissing their coach Aziz with Sanjay Sen set to re-take the reigns.