In a listless display for the better part of seventy odd minutes, a late rally from the Kolkata outfit was not enough to eke out a victory against a resilient Lajong side...
Armando Colaco missed Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Uga Okpara due to suspension and injury respectively for which Robert Lalthlamuana and Subodh Kumar were drafted into the team. Subodh Kumar sat back in midfield while Robert pushed to the left of defense.
Thangboi Singto meanwhile started with Uilliams Souza Silva upfront supported on either wings by Redeem Tlang and Seikhoahao Tuboi. The defense was helmed by Minchol Son and Jibon Singh while Taisuke Matsugae was supposed to provide the thrust in midfield.
Shillong's Brazillian striker, Uilliams could have struck blood in the fourth minute of the match itself as his booming free-kick went through the wall and was parried onto the post by Abhijit Mondal who reacted at the last moment. It was all Lajong as the Red and Gold struggled to keep a foothold.
In the 17th minute it was another whipped free-kick from the left from Boithang Haokip that Abhijit could only parry. If Minchol Son had managed to meet it, it would have surely seen the back of the net. Son was in the thick of things again from the rebound which he just headed wide, into the side-netting.
Two minutes later, one of Raju Gaikwad's long throws almost worked wonders as it left the Lajong defense in shambles. James Moga cushioned the ball for Chidi Edeh whose looping effort on the turn went over.
Moga almost seized on a mistake by Jibon Singh as the defender failed to hold on to a regulation backpass, but goalkeeper, Lalthuammawia Ralte was alert to avert the danger. This was after Ryuji Sueoka almost got his foot at the end of a Moga flick on.
A minute before the half hour mark, Haokip showed terrific skill by hitting a half volley first time from the edge of the box but luckily for East Bengal it was straight at Abhijit, allowing him to tip it over.
Colaco in a desperate bid to change his team's fortunes took off the ineffective Subodh Kumar replacing him with Cavin Lobo in midfield to combat the Shillong dominance.
In the 44th minute, the away side had two glorious chances to open the scoring. The first was a brilliant save by Abhijit to keep out Tlang's header from point blank range after a lovely weighted cross sent in by Uilliams. The rebound fell to an unmarked Tuboi who failed to find the target as he struck it first time.
On the break, East Bengal could have pulled a surprise at the other end. Shylo Malswamtulunga's delivery in the box was almost headed to the corner by Moga but Robin Gurung just did enough to put him off.
The Red and Gold who looked more enterprising after the break almost broke the deadlock through Cavin Lobo but he managed to drag it wide as he aimed for the bottom corner. This was after good show of strength from Chidi who held up the ball in spite of being hounded by Son.
Thereafter it was Chidi again who held it up and laid it off for Robert to hit a ferocious strike across the face of the goal. A diving Ralte could have directed it towards goal, but was inches wide.
A minute before the hour mark, it was a contentious off side call as a through ball had opened the entire Lajong defense and Moga was clean through there.
It was impressive play by Chidi Edeh again who used his body well to hold off Jibon Singh before playing in a lovely through ball for Shylo Malswamtluanga to chase but Fanai gets to it first to clear.
Immediately on the other side, Uilliams almost seized on another Raju Gaikwad mistake but he recovered well and the danger was averted.
Ten minutes before time, Sueoka showed tremendous feet to get the run on Fanai and then twisted and turned his way into the box but failed to keep his shot on target.
In the 82nd minute, Seminlen Doungel should have hit it on target after a lovely threaded pass by Robert from the left had left him with only the goalkeeper to beat. The substitute had the entire breadth of the target to shoot and the goalkeeper out of his line, but somehow dragged his shot wide.
Lalrindika Ralte almost won the match single-handedly as a poor clearance from Jibon Singh fell to him on the edge of the box. His powerful volley however was straight to the Lajong custodian who somehow tipped it over.
The match ended in a stalemate and East Bengal's title hopes are now almost over while a point away from home will do perfectly well for Thangboi Singto's side.