By the time Lalrindika Ralte converted his penalty, East Bengal had sealed a comfortable win against debutants Chennai City FC in the 10th I-League in Barasat on Sunday. It was the last shot of the match in which a goal and an assist from Wedson Anselme, from which Willis Plaza scored, had already helped East Bengal consolidate their position as leaders going into the clash against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in Siliguri next Sunday. But for a man who missed the I-League last term with an injury, it would have meant a lot.
After seven matches, East Bengal have 19 points with six successive wins. Mohun Bagan stay second on 16 from six.
The first half was somewhere between dull and desultory, but Anselme brought the game alive in the 50th minute with a placement at the far post. A large portion of the credit though should go to Ralte, who has adjusted well to his role in central midfield, for his weighted pass down the middle.
Ralte contributed to the second goal as well which produced East Bengal’s best move of the evening. It involved Anselme and Plaza, who looked off-colour in the first half, too with the Trinidad and Tobago international putting the finishing touches to some slick combination play.
Then, substitute Thongkhosiem Haokip was felled by Chennai City FC’s Nigeria central defender Celestine Anyiche and Ralte placed his left-foot effort low to the left of goalie Abhra Mondal. Instrumental in helping East Bengal reach their only AFC Cup semi-final in 2013 with his left-foot long-rangers, Ralte, 24, was injured during East Bengal’s pre-season preparations in the summer of 2015. That kept him out of the 2015-16 season.
The Kolkata league last year and the Indian Super League (ISL) stint with Atletico de Kolkata, who trusted him when few were willing to, helped the player from Lunglei in Mizoram find his feet again. Ralte played 13 games in the ISL and scored once. For East Bengal, a team with whom Ralte has been since 2012, it came together nicely again on Sunday.
Among the things that could worry East Bengal, despite another clean sheet, though is how the massive central defender Ivan Bukenya was left trailing by Chennai City’s Brazilian striker Charles de Souza. And the manner in which goalie TP Rehenesh is making leaving his line and floundering a bad habit. The East Bengal shot-stopper had done it against Mumbai FC. He did too on Sunday but was saved the blushes by a fortuitous block from central defender Gurwinder Singh.
BRIEF SCORE: East Bengal 3 (Anselme 50, Plaza 75, Ralte 90+4) Chennai City FC 0