East Bengal won their first 2017-18 I-League match in more than four weeks as they defeated Indian Arrows by the slimmest of margins at the Barasat Stadium on Sunday.
Veteran striker Dudu Omagbemi (90+3') produced the goods with a headed goal as they left it late to secure all three points, thus ending their four-match winless run.
While Khalid Jamil still did not have the services of Mahmoud Al Amna to call upon, Ansumana Kromah made his full debut and Deepak Kumar was sacrificed from the matchday squad itself. Lalramchullova started at left-back and the release of Armand Bazzou from the team opened up a spot for young Yami Longvah to feature on the bench.
Indian Arrows, who themselves emerged off a goalless stalemate away at Chennai City, brought back skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam to stabilize the midfield. Abhijit Sarkar too made his way into the lineup as Princeton Rebello and Suresh Singh Wangjam were relegated to the bench.
It took a while for both teams to put their foot on the gas but after the twenty-five-minute mark, the game lightened up for the home crowd. Cavin Lobo delivered a diagonal ball into the box from a misplayed corner for Dudu Omagbemi. The Nigerian connected with his head but an untimely bounce on the ground led to Prabhsukhan Singh Gill collecting the ball with ease.
Gill was called into action again a few minutes later and the Punjab-born displayed his 'keeping ability to the fullest. Katsumi Yusa dribbled past Asish Rai and sent in a cross from near the by-line towards Dudu, whose darting header was punched out by the youngster from point-blank range.
Two minutes past the half-hour mark, Kromah released Katsumi from a couple of yards outside Indian Arrows' area but the Japanese playmaker was trapped offside. Referee OP Thankur duly disallowed the ensuing goal as Katsumi was clearly five yards behind the last Arrows' defender.
Dudu Omagbemi really had no luck in front of goal for large parts of the game. Cavin Lobo, whose work-rate was second to none in the game, played a long ball towards the former Chennaiyin FC forward. He first saw off Anwar Ali and swivelled to shoot towards the far post. An outstretched Gill had no chance as the ball hit the upright and Jitendra Singh made no error in clearing out the loose ball.
Katsumi kept asking questions as he almost nullified Rai's presence on the left channel. The Arrows defender had a tough time keeping things under control with East Bengal pressing hard. In the last minute of regulation time before the lemon break, Rahul Kannoly Praveen got on to the end of a perfect cross into the box from Sanjeev Stalin but the Kerala-born winger headed over the bar despite Ubaid CK coming off his line.
Kromah got onto the act in the second half as Samad Ali Mallick was ushered in for Mehtab Singh. Kromah's shot was blocked off by Anwar Ali and the next moment, Mallick overlapped Laldanmawia Ralte to send in a cross which Dudu yet again headed wide off target.
With half an hour remaining, Brandon Vanlalremdika's introduction meant Katsumi Yusa was pushed into a more central role - a move which really did not suit Jamil's plans. The Japanese saw less of the ball compared to the first half, when he was ripping up the flanks, not before a curling effort by the former Mohun Bagan man which was acrobatically parried off by Gill.
Samad Ali Mallick proved to be a sight for sore eyes as his continuous runs from the right channel kept Sanjeev Stalin on his toes. Jobby Justin however, failed to help his team out in the 73rd minute when the Keralite failed to make contact with Samad's cross into the danger area.
The youngsters did capitalise on the slow pace of the East Bengal fullbacks but their decision-making in the final third was lacking. It was evident in the 90th minute when second-half substitute Suresh Singh Wangjam did well to produce a counter attack of the highest quality but Abhijit Sarkar shot straight into the 'keeper's hands from Suresh's pass.
Mohammed Rafique, another second-half introduction turned out to be the saviour initially when he found Dudu Omagbemi from 40 yards out and the 32-year-old leapt to guide the ball in, drooping in its way into the net. Prabhsukhan, who had been brilliant otherwise was naive enough to be off his line as the ball went over his head and into the net in the last minute of injury time.
Jamil's men got the elusive three points after a month, keeping them four points adrift of current league leaders NEROCA FC. They next travel to Minerva Punjab on 13 February while the Arrows host Churchill Brothers next weekend.