Khabra netted himself a double as East Bengal maintain their unbeaten start to the seasonEast Bengal eased 3-0 past a pedestrian Air India outfit in an I-League encounter at the Balewadi stadium in Pune on Saturday.Harmanjot Khabra scored a brace, one in each half, while Penn Orji sealed the three points with a goal in the 75th minute.
Air India, who registered their first win of the campaign against ONGC on the last matchday, fielded the same side against East Bengal.Trevor Morgan’s side too named an unchanged XI from the game against Dempo SC, which meant that Sanju Pradhan and Lalrindika Ralte were yet again consigned to a place on the bench.
Air India started the game brightly, and had the first chance of the game. However Ezeh Henry failed to find the target with his header, when well placed from a corner.
Soon though, East Bengal’s quality in midfield shone through and they enjoyed a monopoly of possession, with Chidi Edeh, Manandeep Singh and Penn Orji’s movement troubling the 5 man defense of the Mumbai based club.
Clear openings though were still a scarce commodity for the Kolkatan outfit, with Chidi Edeh spurning a couple of half chances.
It took till the 37th minute for East Bengal to finally break through a stubborn Airmen’s defense, and then too look played a part, as Penn Orji’s hopeful cross was deflected towards Harmanjot Singh Khabra. The wideman’s snapshot from the edge of the box nestled into the corner of the goal, sparking wild celebrations amongst the Red and Gold faithful.
Manandeep Singh should have doubled the lead against his former club, when Chidi Edeh’s shot was parried by the goalkeeper Jagroop Singh into his path. However with the goal at his mercy, the Indian International somehow missed the target, leaving him with his head in his hands.
Air India retained a threat on the counter, with Prakash Thorat’s direct running style causing plenty of problems to East Bengal’s backline. On one such instance his cross into the box was met by Ezeh Henry, whose looping header went agonizingly wide of the target.
Thorat himself had a chance before half-time, but he fluffed his shot and didn’t even test Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal. Eventually the referee blew the whistle to signal half-time, with East Bengal leading by a solitary goal.
The second half began in a dull fashion, as East Bengal allowed Air India to have a good share of the possession, but the hosts failed to make anything out of it. Penn Orji was industrious on the counter for the visitors, but Chidi Edeh failed to read his runs on most occasions.
Trevor Morgan sent Sanju Pradhan and Lalrindika Ralte in place of the ineffective duo of Ishfaq Ahmed and Manandeep Singh to help his side grab the momentum again. It paid immediate dividends, as Khabra got to the end of a Ralte cross to double his side’s advantage in the 64th minute.
Khabra almost got a hat-trick, when he was at the end of a Penn Orji cross, but he failed to keep his attempt on target. M. Pradeep then had Air India’s best chance of the game till that moment, but with just the keeper to beat, the player toe-poked the ball tamely, with Gurpreet holding on to the ball gratefully
Air India were then hit again on the counter, as Penn Orji got past the defense, rounded off Jagroop Singh and calmly put the ball in the back of the net in the 75th minute, leaving the hosts with a mountain to climb in the remaining minutes.
While the Airmen pressed ahead looking to get a goal back, their attempts were half-hearted and barely troubled the East Bengal defense.
Infact it was Chidi Edeh who had the best chance to score in the dying minutes of the game, but he dithered too long on the ball, allowing Prem Kumar to smother his effort.
Eventually the referee blew the final whistle, bringing Air India’s misery to an end. The win meant East Bengal climed to second on the table, just a point behind Churchill Brothers in the standings.
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