The I-League title race has been thrown wide open, as Mohun Bagan striker Jeje Lalpekhlua scuffed a 96th minute penalty, as East Bengal won the first Kolkata Derby of 2016 2-1.

East Bengal’s out of form playmaker Do Dong Hyun scored a goal each in either half, to take home the man of the match award in this crucial game.

The match was shifted to the Kanchenjunga stadium in Siliguri, due to renovation works going on at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, but that did not affect the turnout much, as around 30,000 supporters are believed to have traveled from the West Bengal capital, to watch this six pointer.

However, the match got off to a slow start, as both the sides looked to size each other up. Mohun Bagan were looking to launch on the attacks early on, but they seemed to be missing the pace of Sony Norde on the flank. Without the threat of the Haitian winger, all East Bengal had to do was keep Mariners striker Cornell Glenn, which ex-Bagan centreback Bello Rasaq did perfectly.

In fact, the two big men had quite a few tussles in the opening exchanges, which proved to be an interesting battle in the East Bengal half.

East Bengal had started with the young Abinash Ruidas on the left wing, but manager Biswajit Bhattacharjee soon brought Do Dong Hyun on, at the half time mark. Soon after this, Lal Holud brigade were awarded a penalty as Ranti Martins was adjudged to have been brought down inside the Mohun Bagan box by Luciano Sabrosa.

The Mohun Bagan players vehemently protested the decision however, as they believed that the Nigerian striker had handled the ball before going down. Dong stepped up to take the penalty, and calmly blasted it into the back of the net to put East Bengal into the lead, just ahead of the half time mark.

The match exploded into life in the second half, as Dong had another chance to double the lead. He latched on to a rebound off a Ranti header from close range. However, the South Korean shot wide of the near post.

East Bengal keeper Bello came off his line to save a shot by Mariners fullback Dhanachandra Singh. The rebound fell at Glen’s feet, as the former Trinidad and Tobago striker pulled the trigger at an empty goal from inside the box. However, Bello Rasaq was there to save the day, as he blocked the shot off the goalline.

Dong had missed an easy chance earlier, but the South Korean did not make any mistake on the 75th minute, as he doubled the lead after deftly dribbling past Kingshuk Debnath and slotting it onto the Mohun bagan net. Surely there was no way the Mariners could come back into the match now.

They launched into the attack, trying to get at least one goal back, and gt their reward, when captain Katsumi Yusa met an inch perfect Pritam Kotal cross to head it into the East Bengal net, giving Mohun Bagan a lifeline.

The MAriners were rewarded for their late persistence as referee Santhosh Kumar pointed to the spot for a second time in the match — on the 95th minute. Sehnaj Singh, who had brought Jeje down inside the box was adjudged to be the culprit, as he was given the yellow card.

Jeje stepped up to take the spot kick, but the 25-year-old, who was recently given the captain’s armband of the national side against Turkmenistan, hit a tame penalty, that goalkeeper Barretto saved easily.

This win takes East Bengal (who have played one game lesser than Mohun Bagan) to within one point of their arch rivals. Interestingly, Bengaluru FC also in a good position being three points behind Bagan, having played two games less.

Picture Courtesy: I-League Media

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