East Bengal hopped over to the top position in the league with a first half hattrick by Ranti Martins, as Shillong Lajong faded away into a foggy night at the Barasat Stadium, near Kolkata, on Tuesday.

The Lal Holud brigade started off on the back foot, with Fabio Pena, Boithang Haokip and Samuel Shadap troubling East Bengal custodian Luis Xavier Barreto early on in the first half.

Biswajit Bhattacharjee showed some faith in Sanju Pradhan, as he chose the 26-year-old over South Korean star Do Dong-Hyun. Pradhan repaid that faith, when Mehtab Hossain played him through on the right wing, with an aerial ball.

The player, who is currently on loan from North East United FC of the Indian Super League (ISL) soared up the right wing, and into the Shillong Lajong box, and played in a low cross to Ranti Martins, who made no mistake in slotting it home, to put East Bengal into the lead, against the run of play.

However, East Bengal, who have been struggling in the recent matches came back strongly after the quarter of an hour mark, as Ranti Martins put the home side in the lead on the 17th minute.

East Bengal’s French star Bernard Mendy however, was having an off day, playing in the midfield beside Mehtab Hossain, as he played a number of mis-passes.

The hosts doubled their lead on the 26th minute, as Ranti Martins latched on to a lose ball by Mehtab, and fired in a shot from around 20 yards out.

By this time, Shillong Lajong were starting to feel the pressure of going two goals down to the hosts, and seemed to be fading away from the game. East Bengal on the other hand, looked to be very effective on the counter attack, as the continuously broke Lajong down in the midfield, with the mercurial Mehtab doing all the dirty work.

There was yet more misery in store for Shillong Lajong, as Ranti Martins created history for East Bengal, by scoring the third goal of the match. Bikash Jairu, who had switched wings with Pradhan, played a long cross field ball out to Ranti, who played an intricate one-two with Md. Rafique, dummied Lajong defender Samuel Shadap, and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Vishal Kahit. Kahit seemed to have made some contact with Ranti, but the Nigerian forward did well to keep his balance, and slot the ball into the net, to get his hattrick.

Ranti Martins made club history with this goal, as he became the first ever East Bengal player to score a first half hattrick for the Lal Holud brigade in the erstwhile National Football League, and the current I-League.

That was not the end of the story though, as East Bengal came out all guns blazing in the second half as well. This time, Man of the Match Bikash Jairu got himself on the scoresheet, as Bhattacharjee’s men inflicted their biggest defeat on Shillong Lajong at the Barasat Stadium. A miscued cross from the left flank found itself inside the Lajong goal, after keeper Vishal Kahit fumbled the ball on the goal line.

The intensity of the goal seemed to have decreased a bit after the fourth goal, as both the teams looked to play out the rest of the game. Bernard Mendy, who was clearly looking out of form as a midfielder in the 4-4-2 system, was asked to play as the striker, as Rafique and Cavin Lobo took control in the middle of the park.

Meanwhile, Shillong Lajong were mostly restricted to long range shots. The likes of Yusuke Yamagata, and Fabio Pena both tried their luck with their shots, but failed to trouble East Bengal custodian Barreto.

East Bengal could have had two more goals in injury time, as Ranti shot wide from a one-on-one opportunity, and substitute Joachim Abranches thundered the crossbar, but the score remained 0-0, as they climbed to the top of the I-League table.

However, East Bengal have played a game more than Bengaluru FC, who are just two points behind them, and three games more than arch rivals Mohun Bagan, who are just four points behind.  This victory by East Bengal has thrown the I-League wide open, and any slip-ups by either Bengaluru or Mohun Bagan could result in a close three-way finish to the league.

Image Courtesy: I-League Media

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