That a team used to scaring opponents with variety in set-pieces would lose to a goal following a corner is an irony difficult to miss. And when referee Shaji Kurien ignored Air India's (AI) justified howls for a penalty after Kailash Patil's back-volley struck Louis Ebami's hand, Subroto Bhattacharya must have been reminded of how refereeing errors even out.
About that and more was evident on Saturday night here as Chirag United rode Daniel Bidemi's opportunistic left-foot strike to their fourth win and stayed in mid-table with 16 points. The victory pushed Air India (17), playing with 10 men after Emmanuel Ovieghara's 25-minute cameo, down the table and East Bengal up to sixth.
AI coach Bimal Ghosh kept his word, starting Ovieghara on the bench. Perhaps not anticipating that, Bhattacharya pushed Daniel Bidemi into central defence and paired him with Ebami. Kinshuk Debnath, playing in front of the back four, put in a defensive gridlock AI couldn't break.
Uttam Singh's throws were a constant threat that Chirag United somehow rode their luck over. Ovieghara came on in the 55th minute as Ghosh switched to three forwards but Chirag defended well. Ovighera was then expelled after a kung-fu style lunge on Bidemi.
A match between teams more comfortable without the ball than with it wasn't expected to have many free-flowing moves and on that count, this 15th round encounter didn't disappoint. But as both gritted it out, Chirag made more constructive attempts to threaten Swarup Das in goal. A large portion of credit for that should go to skipper Lalmalswama Hmar. Involved in most of their build-ups, it was from his corner Chirag struck, Ebami redirecting a poor clearance which had Denson Devdas going for goal but hitting Shankar Oraon instead. Debnath struck out a timely leg to protect the lead and deny Soccor Velho.
United, JCT draw
Gordon D'Costa adds from Mumbai: Mahindra United strikers proved ineffective once again as they failed to find the target and were forced to settle for a goalless draw with JCT at the Cooperage. However, there was some consolation for the Mumbai 'Red Devils' as they climbed to seventh position, courtesy their city rivals Air India, who lost to Chirag United in Kolkata.
Mahindras, Air India and JCT have 17 points each, but the Mumbai teams, with a better goal difference, are placed seventh and eighth.
RESULTS: Chirag United 1 (Bidemi, 24th) bt Air India 0; Mahindra United 0 drew with JCT 0.