East Bengal were held to a 1-1 draw against Dempo SC in a fourth round match of the I-League, played at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata, on Saturday.
In a fiercely contested match between Federation Cup champions defending I-League winners, both teams shared the spoils as East Bengal's early lead through Edeh Chidi in the 31st minute was cancelled out by a late goal by Peter Carvalho in the 82nd minute.
Trevor Morgan fielded an unchanged side from their win over Pune FC, apart from injured goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal, who was replaced by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Manandeep Singh and Edeh Chidi started up front with Robin Singh finding a place on the bench.
Meanwhile, Armando Colaco dropped Rohan Ricketts from the starting line-up, to field his experienced campaigner Climax Lawrence. Koko Sakibo and Ryuji Sueoka were the two strikers for Dempo while the midfield was flanked by Anthony Pereira and Clifford Miranda.
The Red and Gold, spurred by the home support, began as the better side as Mehtab Hussain and Penn Orji dominated the midfield while Edeh Chidi often dropped deep to make himself available.
However, it was Koko Sakibo who almost pounced on Arnab Mondal’s weak back pass, but East Bengal's young goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu was alert and up to the task.
The first real chance for the home came in the 10th minute when Chidi tactfully cut inside the rival box and let loose a fierce drive which Dempo custodian Subhasish Roychowdhury diverted on to the outside of the left post.
In the next minute, a long kick from Gurpreet caught the Goan defense napping as Manandeep Singh was sent clean through with only Subhasish to beat. The keeper however read his intentions as the youngster tried to chip, but failed spectacularly.
The match turned feisty as Mehtab Hussain picked up his customary yellow card for a crunching challenge on Mahesh Gawli.
East Bengal were finally rewarded for their dominance as Chidi won a penalty for his side after the Nigerian was hauled down by Mahesh Gawli. The fouled player made no mistake in slotting the ball to the right of the diving Roychowdhury in the 31st minute.
Just two minutes later, Trevor Morgan’s men launches another attack with Penn Orji, who had stationed himself to the right, found himself with plenty of operating space, but his final pass failed to pick out either Manandeep or Chidi.
After a neat one two with Ishfaq Ahmed, Naoba Singh broke into the penalty box, but a timely tackle by Debabrata Roy meant that the Red and Gold had to be happy with a corner which failed to yield anything worthwhile as the Kolkata outfit went into the break with the lead.
The second half kicked off in similar fashion as there was an early chance for East Bengal as Manandeep Singh was fouled just outside the penalty box. Mehtab Hussain's free-kick left a lot to be desired, as it went straight to Subhasish Roychowdhury.
Mehtab got another chance as East Bengal won another free-kick outside the Dempo box and this time he did not disappoint as he slipped in a delightful ball for Penn Orji, who dribbled past one defender but his shot went woefully high.
Dempo’s first meaningful chance in the second half came from an Anthony Pereira free-kick from the right flank but Gurpreet made no mistake as he smartly came and collected the ball.
Things really took a turn for the ugly as Ryuji Suoeka was brought down in the box. Instead of awarding what looked like a clear penalty, the referee went to book Sueoka for a dive. The Dempo players mobbed the referee even manhandling him. Armando too entered the field and had to be restrained by the fourth official. What could have seen some players easily been sent-off for dissent only resulted in the Japanese picking up a yellow for simulation.
Penn Orji was really being a handful as he dribbled past two, before hitting an inch perfect cross to the left flank, which was headed back across the goal by Manandeep Singh but unfortunately for the Red and Gold, Edeh Chidi could not get on the end of it.
Dempo suffered a setback after just twenty minutes had passed into the second half as experienced central defender Mahesh Gawli, who was struggling, had to be replaced as he picked up a knock.
It was Mehtab again whose dead ball delivery created havoc in the Dempo box. While the free-kick was initially parried by the Dempo goalie, it came back to the impressive Naoba Singh. His fierce drive from the edge of the box went just over the bar, with Roy Chowdhury breathing a sigh of relief.
Naoba was in action just a minute later as he slipped a delightful through ball for Penn Orji who darted in the box, but he waited a tad too long before slipping the ball back to Robin Singh after Roy Chowdhury was down on the mat. However Robin lacked composure and gave the Dempo defense enough time to clear the ball, as he failed to put the ball in the empty net, with the goalkeeper stranded.
With just ten minutes left, Chidi Edeh went on a mazy run down the left, beating Dempo defenders for fun, before putting in a low ball into the box. However it was Robin Singh, who failed to capitalise as Roy Chowdhury beat him to the ball.
Against the run of play, it was Dempo who scored the next goal from a corner in the 82nd minute. The ball swung to the far corner was headed back towards goal by Cresson Antao, before a goalmouth scramble ensued and it was Peter Carvalho who had the last touch before the ball ended in the back of the net. It was Gurpreet’s indecision to come and get the ball that cost the home side.
East Bengal tried their best to grab a late winner with under ten minutes remaining, but to no avail. In spite of being the dominant side, the Red and Gold had to be content with a single point as their strikers missed some gilt-edged chances to bury the game. On the flipside, Armando Colaco will be proud to see his team displaying the champions’ mentality of not giving up till the very end. Both teams remain unbeaten in the I-League so far.
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.