Over the past four years, the Cooperage football stadium had not been a happy hunting ground for East Bengal, especially against Air India.
On Saturday, that changed.
East Bengal pulled off a narrow win against their nemesis with Ghanaian striker Abel Hammond making the difference. This was their second win of the competition and East Bengal now have nine points from seven games. Air India stay on five from six games.
Air India have themselves to blame as their midfield looked ineffective, particularly in the first half. That changed only towards the end of the first session and though it continued through the second, East Bengal defended stoutly.
East Bengal capitalised on Air India’s initial laxity and from one such move, Air India goalkeeper Arnab Das Sharma and Asian player Behnam Mohammed sustained serious knee injuries following a midair collision as they tried to cut off Nirmal Chettri’s swerving free-kick in the 23rd minute. That resulted in play being held up for almost five minutes as both the players received medical attention.
Air India erred hugely by continuing with the injured Arnab. Syed Rahim Nabi’s resultant flag-kick from the right was headed back by a defender. Subash Singh picked up the clearance and chipped across for Hammond to head past the goalkeeper who was unable to react.
Soon after the goal, Arnab was replaced by Sambhu Mistry and Harpreet Singh came in for Mohammed. But even with more than one hour remaining, Air India’s search for the equaliser stayed elusive.