In what was an unusual performance from the strong East Bengal defense, they allowed Prayag United to comeback after going two goals up, and could only secure a point...
Prayag United and East Bengal played out a 2-2 stalemate at the Kalyani Stadium in West Bengal, with Eelco Schattorie's side further denting Trevor Morgan's credentials in his pursuit of winning the side's maiden I-League crown.
Chidi Edeh had put East Bengal ahead in the 41st minute and the lead was doubled by Manandeep Singh in the 49th minute from the penalty spot. However Prayag came back strongly after the hour mark, with goals from Carlos Hernandez in the 62nd minute and Ranti Martins Soleye in the 66th minute helping them to make it all level.
Prayag United missed the services of Shylo Malswamtulunga as the midfielder was still deemed unfit. Sangram Mukherjee got the nod ahead of Indian International keeper Subrata Paul in goal. Kottayil Asif, the Keralean youngster of the purple brigade, was also dropped as James Singh made it into the first eleven.
The Red and Gold lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, that saw Penn Orji playing as a withdrawn forward just behind the duo of Chidi Edeh and Manandeep Singh upfront. This only epitomized Morgan’s long standing problem of finding a prolific partner for the Nigerian as he was the fourth striker he had tried after Baljit Sahni, Andrew Barisic and Robin Singh.
The game began at a breathtaking pace with both teams looking for an early goal. For the first 20 minutes however, none of the teams could manage to find a clear cut opening in the opponent box. While Morgan's men resorted to their usual tactic of playing lofted through balls to their strikers up front, it seemed to bear no fruit on this occasion at least. The game failed to flow as a break was taken after less than half an hour had been played due to the intense heat.
After the break East Bengal started attacking with renewed gusto. Chidi's pop at goal was blocked by the Prayag defense only to find an unmarked Manandeep whose shot was unfortunately blocked by his own team-mate, Ishfaq Ahmed.
In the 33rd minute, the Purple Brigade broke through the East Bengal defense for the first time, when a move orchestrated by Ranti Martins and Lalkamal Bhowmick had caught Gurpreet Singh in goal, almost off-guard, but Prayag's Mohammed Rafique failed to slot the ball on target.
The deadlock was finally broken four minutes before half time, with Chidi getting that elusive goal. It was the same through ball played by the midfield which found Chidi unmarked and bearing down on goal. Although Sangram got a hand to the ball, it was not enough as it crept into the net, off the inside of the post. Penn also had good chance but his curled free-kick from the edge of the box was thwarted well by the Prayag custodian.
The match saw players wearing their emotion in their sleeves and there were six yellow cards in the match. The situation got worse when Eelco Schattorie and Trevor Morgan were involved in a scuffle after the half time whistle was blown, especially with some contestable referring decisions affecting both sides.
Things got better for Trevor Morgan's men as the second half got underaway. Within five minutes East Bengal were two goals up. Chidi played a great ball down the left flank to Ishfaq Ahmed, whose searing pace saw him beat the full backs with ease and darted into the box, only to be brought down by Sangram Mukherjee, in goal. The referee could do choice but award a spot-kick to East Bengal.
Manandeep calmly converted from the spot to double the lead for the Kolkata giants. However the joy was short lived as Gurpreet's apparent blunder gifted Eelco's men a goal back as he allowed a Carlos Hernandez long ranger to go in through his legs two minutes after the hour mark
It was then clinical finishing by the Purple brigade which saw them level the score after a bit of concerted pressure in the 66th minute. Hernandez was the architect this time as he played a lovely through ball to the league's top scorer. Ranti Martins made no mistake and his powerful shot gave Gurpreet no chance at all.
In the dying minutes of the half, East Bengal could have won the match as Ishfaq Ahmed was in a one-on-one situation but his delicate chip just went wide as he saw Sangram advancing. There was late drama too, as in added time, Chidi had put the ball in the net but was deemed offside.
With yet another stalemate, East Bengal are slipping up in the title race and are still two points behind Churchill Brothers, having played a game more. Meanwhile Prayag United are aiming for a top three finish and on this form, they surely could.