An East Bengal flag waving at the Ambedkar Stadium signified what the 4-1 drubbing of Air India (AI) meant to the red-and-gold brigade supporters present. Unbeaten this season, East Bengal got to their 17th win in as many games in style here on Saturday. “I'm happy with the win and the boys have worked hard. However, even if it is 17 in a row, it'll be pointless unless we don't go all the way here in Delhi,” said their English coach Trevor Morgan.
The Kolkata giants began on a tense footing and were trailing early when AI defender Yusuf Tijani put Uttam Singh's throw-in into the back of Sandip Dey's net. East Bengal dominated possession but found it difficult to breach the AI back line. Robin Singh and Tolgay Ozbey repeatedly got the better of central defenders Vijith Setty and Tijani, particularly in the air, while Naoba Singh controlled the right flank. Naoba was unmarked in the penalty area in the 16th minute but Robin skied his pass.
The fast-paced game resulted in a host of careless tackles. After AI's Amrit Pal Singh was booked in the 23rd minute, East Bengal's Mehtab Hossain was shown the yellow for a lashing on Okorogor Praise. Reisnagmi Vashum was substituted in the 33rd minute after a painful knock and Sanju Pradhan brought in.
Nigerian playmaker Penn Orji was by far the most noticeable on the pitch, his pace and defence-splitting passes drawing applause from the crowd. A goal was imminent and in the 43rd minute, East Bengal's top scorer over the last 16 matches Tolgay Ozbey converted a Mehtab corner-kick.
The second half had East Bengal putting up a quality show. Harmanjot Khabra and Uga Okpara had early chances but the lead came through a dynamic Orji run in the 71st minute when he outclassed Amrit on the right flank to pass into the box for Ozbey to smack home. Ozbey left the pitch in the 83rd to raucous cheers and Ekene Ikenewa made his appearance. East Bengal again scored when Robin found Orji, who set up Ekene for the finish.