East Bengal suffered their first loss of their 2016 I-League campaign, as Bengaluru FC ran away 1-0 winners by virtue of a goal by Blues captain Sunil Chhetri. This is the first time that Bengaluru FC have won an away match against a side from Kolkata.

The match started off in a lively fashion, with both East Bengal and Bengaluru FC having a real go at eachother. Bengaluru FC looked like the team with the early initiative, as they looked to exploit the presence of U-22 player Samad Ali Mallick at left back for East Bengal.

However goalkeeper Rehenesh TP came to East Bengal’s rescue in the fifth minute itself,  as he rushed out of his area to tackle Bengaluru FC’s Kim Song Yong on the flank. Replays suggested that the East Bengal custodian might have kicked Yong, but referee Santhosh Kumar merely showed him a yellow card. A few minutes later however, Santhosh Kumar did not take such a kind view of Samad’s tackle on Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri, and the young defender was booked for what seemed to be a clean challenge.

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East Bengal’s newly acquired star Bernard Mendy appeared in the crowd, and this seemed to have given a boost to their defender Arnab Mondal, who looked solid as ever at the back. With Mondal having a good central defensive partnership with Bello Rasaq, it would be interesting to see where manager  Biswajit Bhattacharjee would play Mendy.

As the match swayed from one side of the field to the other, East Bengal looked to play their South Korean playmaker Do Dong through, who in turn was trying to put Ranti Martins through on goal. However the Bengaluru FC centrebacks John Johnson and Curtis Osano were on the top of their game, continuously thwarting attacks from the East Bengal attackers.

Bengaluru FC also created a lot of chances at the other end, with Simlen Doungel cutting in from the left flank as he unleashed a curling effort on goal from the edge of the 18-yard box. However, his shot went wide and the Lal Holud brigade could heave a sigh of relief once again. Doungel had a lively first half, as he again proceeded to set Yong up, but the latter blasted his shot well over the bar. Dong also had a good chance at the other end for East Bengal, but he blasted his volley over the bar. The first half came to a close with both the sides trying to break the deadlock, the coaches Biswajit Bhattacharjee and Ashley Westwood went into the dressing room with a lot to explain to their team.

East Bengal came out with much fervour in the second half and Md Rafique looked to be the focal point of their attacks, instead of their South Korean star Dong. Rafique looked lively at the start of the second half, as he played through to Martins on the break. Martins in turn tried to play an onrushing Dong through with an aerial through ball, but it was intercepted expertly by Lalchuanmawia. Dong seemed to have some real problems while running at the big and strong centre backs of Bengaluru FC and it would be interesting to see how the South Korean takes his game forward after being found out by Ashley Westwood and his side.

For all the attacking play by East Bengal, it was the visitors who opened the scoring, as Rino Anto played Sunil Chhetri through with a lovely aerial through ball that the Indian national team captain slotted home on the hour mark. There was an element of luck involved in the goal, as the ball seemed to have rolled into the net after hitting Chhetri on the thigh.

The goal seemed to have given a new lease of life to East Bengal, as they surged forward looking for the equaliser, while Bengaluru FC sat back trying to hit them on the counter. As the half wore on, East Bengal looked to be relying too much on Dong once again, but the South Korean was clearly having an off day on the pitch. The chemistry between East Bengal playmaker Joaquim Abranches and forward Ranti Martins did not seem to be that good, and Bhattacharjee tried to change that by bringing Cavin Lobo on for Abranches in the 77th minute.

The Lal Holud brigade had their best chance to level the score on the 81st minute, when Bikash Jairu played Martins through on the right wing. The Nigerian forward used his strength to take the ball to the byline under pressure, and then cut back from there. The cross was palmed away by Bengaluru goalkeeper Amrinder Singh. However, the rebound landed straight at the feet of Jairu, but he sent his weak shot wide.

East Bengal had yet another chance, as Rafique played in Martins with a clever header from an Arnab Mondal long ball, but the forward failed to latch on to the ball. As fourth official Faisal Salahudeen signaled five minutes of injury time, a dense cloud of smog descended upon both the Barasat Stadium and East Bengal’s hopes of landing their first I-League title as they fell four points behind Bengaluru FC.

Image Source – I-League media

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