A Juan Pena goal gave the visitors the lead, before Chidi Edeh equalized for the Red and Gold. The hosts though, failed to find a winner and had to settle for a draw...
East Bengal’s title hopes received a major blow, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Sporting Clube de Goa, in an I-League encounter at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
Juan Pena gave the visitors a surprise lead in the 44th minute, with a brilliant effort from outside the box. Chidi Edeh replied for Trevor Morgan’s side, with a header in the second half.
East Bengal started in their usual 4-3-1-2 formation. Chidi Edeh paired up with Baljit Singh Sahni upfront, while Penn Orji started in his usual position of an attacking midfielder. The creative duo of Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Mehtab Hussain were absent due to suspension. Subodh Kumar started in place of Mehtab as a defensive midfielder, while Sanju Pradhan took Khabra’s place. As Naoba Singh was out with an injury, Raju Gaikwad had to start as a makeshift right-back. Arnab Mondal, the East Bengal defender who was missing action in the last few matches due a nagging injury, made it to the bench after a long time.
Speaking of the visitors, the side started in a 4-4-2 formation with Rowllin Borges joining Juan Pena attack. Ogba Kalu played the role of a pivot in the middle of the pitch.
The match started at a slow pace with both the teams failing to produce quality service for their strikers. Chidi Edeh was the star of the show for the first 30 minutes, as he pulled off some brilliant dodges and passes. However, the central defensive pairing of Angel Berlanga and Rojen Singh cleared the aerial balls which were sent in for the East Bengal strikers. The midfield of the home side lacked the cutting edge, as Penn Orji was far from his usual dynamic self. Sanju Pradhan, the skipper of the side, was the worst of the lot. The winger continued to lose possession to put his team in trouble.
The first real chance of the game came East Bengal’s way in the 21st minute, when Chidi Edeh took a powerful shot from the edge of the box. However, Bruno Colaco, the Sporting custodian, palmed away the goal-bound shot to deny the home side. Two minutes later it was the prolific Nigerian again, who ran down the right flank to deliver a good ball for Baljit Sahni. However, the former JCT striker failed to place his powerful header on target, as it went well above the bar.
Just before the half time, it was the visiting side who were celebrating, as Juan Pena broke the deadlock in the 44th minute. The Red and Gold midfield was playing a series of square and back-passes, when Sporting suddenly snatched possession. The ball was soon played to the onrushing Juan Pena, who had both Uga Okpara and Gurwinder Singh to deal with at the edge of the box. Under pressure, the ex-Malaga player showed his class, as he attempted a beautiful curled shot, which gave Abhijit Mondal, the East Bengal goal-keeper no chance and put Oscar Bruzon’s side ahead.
No more chances were created in the first half and the Flaming Oranje went into the break with a one-goal lead.
The second half started in a similar fashion, with Trevor Morgan’s men trying to find a way out against the resolute defense of Sporting. The first opportunity of the second half was created by East Bengal, when Raju Gaikwad sent in a long throw from the left touchline. Okpara headed the ball goalwards. The ball though, hit the crossbar, much to the agony of the home fans. The Red and Gold seemed to lack a plan-B, as the aimless football continued in the second half. Morgan tried to change the scenario by bringing in Cavin Lobo for Subodh Kumar, to add impetus to the attack.
In the 62nd minute, the East Bengal gaffer reshuffled the forward line, as he brought in Robin Singh in place of Baljit. In the very next minute, East Bengal got a free-kick as Larinidika Ralte was brought down. Ralte passed to Robert who ran down the left wing, before playing in a good ball into the six-yard box. Chidi Edeh's header gave Bruno Colaco no chance to deny the home team the equalizer.
After the game was level, East Bengal started attacking with renewed gusto. Sporting also made a change as Juan Pena was substituted by Seiya Sugishita upfront. Ishfaq Ahmed got a golden opportunity to put his team into the lead, but failed to slot home the ball into the back of the net.
The Flaming Oranje saw off the last ten minutes of the game, holding on for one point.
Trevor Morgan’s side though are now four points behind Churchill Brothers in the title race, with the Goans also having a game in hand.
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