East Bengal got out of jail through an opportunistic header by substitute Ivan Bukenya against Aizawl FC, who played the last few seconds with 12 men. The transgression fetched Bayi Stephane a booking because he returned after being substituted by Lalthakima in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time. East Bengal have conveyed their grouse to the All India Football Federation.
That East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan had to use Ugandan Bukenya, a massive central defender who played with Kaizer Chiefs and had two training sessions here after a trans-continental flight, and Willis Plaza, who practised only on Friday, in the second half of this 10th I-League opener elucidates how the title contenders have started this campaign. In a 21-year coaching career, Morgan, 60, said he has never done that.
“We were disjointed today; we lacked finishing abilities and even looked heavy-legged in the second half. But credit to the boys for keeping at it which got us the equaliser,” he said.
The ball pinging off Gurwinder Singh’s foot into TP Rehenesh’s goal came against the run of play but it spurred Aizawl FC to play more like the team that roared into the 2016 Federation Cup final and not one that got relegated before being reinstated.
Jayesh Rane tested Rehenesh after beating left-back Narayan Das with the guile that got Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi to nickname him ‘Neymar’. It was Rane’s ball for Stephane that went in off Gurwinder. From a corner-kick, left-back Lalruatthara’s header thudded into the horizontal and then Stephane, one of the two under-22 players used by Aizawl FC, again beat Das and square-passed to Albert Zohimgmawia whose shot from close was saved by Rehenesh. Another deflection helped Rehenesh stave off Zohimgmawia’s effort in the 78th minute.
Much of this may have been triggered by East Bengal sacrificing muscle in the midfield for personnel in front because it gave Aizawl FC’s Alfred Jaryan the space needed to manoeuvre. Morgan took off Jackichand Singh for Plaza who, understandably, is far from his best but still showed he can be a livewire in the penalty box. The Trinidad and Tobago international swivelled into the penalty area and fired a shot which brought out a superb reflex save from Aizawl FC goalie Albino Gomes.
That was in the 80th minute. Nine minutes later, East Bengal scored when Mehtab Hossain’s corner-kick was headed forward by Rowlin Borges for Bukenya to nod home.
“This is a dream start for my team, we could even have got three points but for a marking error,” said Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil.
East Bengal 1 (Bukenya, 89)
Aizwal FC 1 (Guriwnder o.g, 45+1)