The I-League is a neck and neck affair between the two Kolkata clubs now, as East Bengal have moved to within one point of arch rivals Mohun Bagan, after a narrow 2-1 win over Salgaocar at the Barasat Stadium on Sunday.

Goals from Belo Rasaq and Mohammed Rafique did the trick for East Bengal, while Salgaocar striker Darryl Duffy leveled the scores briefly in the second half.

The Red and Gold brigade got off to a great start in the first half, as they looked to get the early goal in this crucial match, while Salgaocar looked to play on the counter. The Greens were playing the long-ball game, looking to hoove the ball up field, in the hope that striker Duffy latches on to one of these balls.

This tactic made sure that the crowd at the Barasat Stadium got to see an intense battle between East Bengal star Bernard Mendy and Salgaocar no. 10 Martin Scott.

Md. Rafique, who again started in the centre forward’s role behind Ranti Martins looked very lively on the ball in the opening exchanges, as he constantly looked to link up with wingers Bikash Jairu and Abinash Ruidas.

Both Biswajit Bhattacharjee and Santosh Kashyap seemed a bit reluctant to play the under-22 players, as both made the changes in the first half, with Sanju Pradhan coming on for Abinash Ruidas in East Bengal colours, and Keenan Almeida replacing Pawan Kumar for the Greens.

Soon after however, Rafique popped up in the Salgaocar penalty area with the ball, after it was played through by midfielder Mehtab Hossain. The 23-year-old Rafique merely had to dodge past Brian Mascarenhas, and squeeze the ball under goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, to give East Bengal a first-half lead.

Red and Golds boss Bhattacharjee egged his team on to score the second goal, as East Bengal increasingly pushed forward through the wings. However, Salgaocar were able to keep the home side out for the remainder of the first half.

With East Bengal attacking more and more in the second half, Kashyap threw Salgaocar’s star forward Jackichand Singh into the fray, hoping to get more attacking impetus into the game. That did not make much of a difference however, as East Bengal controlled the ebb and flow of the game, in spite of Duffy getting a couple of chances here and there.

The change ultimately did work out in an indirect way for Salgaocar, as Augustine Fernandes played an aerial ball into the box, aimed at Duffy, after recieving a pass from Jackichand. Duffy tried to head the ball into the path of Boithang Haokip who was at the far post, but it took a deflection off the top of East Bengal fullback Rahul Bheke’s head, and looped over the baffled goalkeeper Luis Xavier Barreto, into the goal.

East Bengal immediately launched into the attack after conceding the equaliser, not wanting to drop any more points in their title chase. On the other hand, Salgaocar put all their men behind the ball, trying to get the one point out of this difficult away fixture.

The home fans had to wait till the 83rd minute however, to see their side take the lead again, as Bello Rasaq hit a perfectly timed header from a Sanju Pradhan corner. Rasaq headed the ball straight into the goal, and Salgaocar custodian Karanjit could only stand and watch, as the ball bulged the roof of the net.

By this time, most of the energy seemed to have been sapped out of the Salgaocar players, and East Bengal clamped down on their own goal, to protect the slender lead. Salgaocar had one last chance to make it 2-2 when Eder Fernandes headed a corner perfectly into the ground, towards Barreto’s goal. However, the East Bengal custodian was swift on his toes, as he pulled off a diving save to ensure his team earned the three points.

Image SourceL I-League

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