Guess who summed up Pune FC’s performance best by describing their football as efficient? It was East Bengal coach Philippe de Ridder.
Efficient the white shirts were at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on a hot March afternoon. True, East Bengal ended the first half having got more chances but it was Pune FC who could have gone ahead 2-0 by the eighth minute. And for being slower off the blocks after the breather, East Bengal were punished twice, this time too in eight minutes. Soon after going 2-0 up, they swept the ball from their territory to Godwin Franco on the right and almost to Arata who had sneaked into the six-yard box in a manner that encapsulated De Ridder’s comment.
Then there was the bizarre incident of Edmar Figueira’s goal being disallowed even though the ball came out richocheting off the inside of the framework in the 71st minute. It was amazing that neither referee A. Arjunan nor assistant-referee J.P. Pandit saw what most in the 10,000 crowd did but it nearly helped East Bengal get out of jail.
They couldn’t because in the 74th minute, Bhaichung Bhutia let petulance cloud his sense of pragmatism. Booked for protesting at being denied a penalty after a long blast took Selwyn Fernandes’s hand, Bhutia was expelled when, in trying to hasten the restart after Abel Hammond’s penalty, he accidentally pushed Subrata Pal. The India goalie’s playacting did the rest.
Had Douhou Pierre not blasted into the upright from close and East Bengal goalie Abhra Mondal not managed to get his body between the goal and an Izumi Arata drive, the hosts would have chasing the game a lot earlier than they did. Gradually though, East Bengal took control.
Hammond’s 20th minute try after Mehtab Hossain found him with a superb ball on the right was saved by Pal. Six minutes later, Nabi found Hammond with a lob but with B. Beikhokhei too going for the header, neither managed enough power.
Pierre stabbed home following Shanmugham Venkatesh’s corner-kick and before De Ridder’s plan to rejig his formation from an unconventional 4-5-1 to the more attacking 4-4-2 could be implemented.
Before East Bengal could really settle down, Figueira made the most of space on the right side of their defence to score the insurance goal.
“Two moments of inattention cost us today. It takes a lot of time to build, little to disintegrate. The only solution to this is to train together more.” Again De Ridder’s assessment was spot-on.
Even with 10 men, East Bengal pressed for the equaliser and Hammond went close with an injury-time header that went wide. Had that gone in, Pune FC would have justifiably felt robbed. Pune FC now have 22 points to East Bengal’s 20.