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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Churchill draw ends East Bengal’s winning run

The 1-1 draw in front of 43, 768 fans meant East Bengal, after four successive wins, missed the chance to join Chennai City FC at the top of the standings.

football Updated: Feb 17, 2019 20:27 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
File Picture: East Bengal player Willis Deon Plaza and Mohun Bagan player Luis Xavier Barreto compete for the ball during I-League Derby match at Salt Lake in Kolkata on Sunday
File Picture: East Bengal player Willis Deon Plaza and Mohun Bagan player Luis Xavier Barreto compete for the ball during I-League Derby match at Salt Lake in Kolkata on Sunday(PTI)
         

It was the kind of goal Lalrindika Ralte has helped score many times in a storied career with East Bengal. Sunday’s effort against Churchill Brothers, opening his shoulder and firing a left-foot free-kick that grazed Kassim Aidara’s head and arrowed into the goal past goalkeeper Vigneshwaran Baskaran’s outstretched hand, in the 78th minute not only cancelled Willis Plaza goal 10 minutes earlier but also kept alive East Bengal’s quest for a maiden I-League title.

The 1-1 draw in front of 43, 768 fans meant East Bengal, after four successive wins, missed the chance to join Chennai City FC at the top of the standings but they are now two adrift with 32 points from 16 rounds. Churchill Brothers moved to 31 after 17 games.

That didn’t look like happening when I-league’s top scorer Plaza stabbed his 18th goal, getting to Nicholas Fernandes’ assist before East Bengal central defender Borja Gomez; the move having been initiated by a kick from Gomez that didn’t clear his half. Plaza’s speed had put Gomez in a spot in the ninth minute leading to the Spaniard being booked for a cynical tackle. In the 19thminute, Chesterpoul Lyngdoh had a clear look on goal after Gomez’s miskick reached him but the Churchill Brothers’ right-side midfielder blasted over.

But Churchill Brothers preferred to down the hatches rather than use Lyngdoh’s pace. That Khalid Aucho, formerly with East Bengal, looked the most effective player summed up the first half at Salt Lake stadium here on Sunday. The only shot on target came from an East Bengal player all right but Antonio Dovale’s snap right-footer in the 43rd minute had Baskaran striking out his right hand while airborne.

The move that produced that shot too was the best of the half with Aidara finding Enrique Esqueda on the right and the Mexican laying it back in space for Dovale to run in and fire. Fire he did but with a clear look on goal, the Spaniard could have placed it better.

Churchill Brothers successfully thwarted East Bengal with Aucho and Anthony Wolfe denying them space in the midfield. Winless in their last three games, the blue shirts denied East Bengal width with by the hard running Chesterpoul Lyngdoh and Nicolas Fernandes. It meant Laldanmawia Ralte, East Bengal’s hero in the 5-0 win against Shillong Lajong earlier in the week, and Dovale were reined in leading to both being substituted in the second half.

Moves breaking down in the midfield was exactly what Churchill Brothers would have wanted and when central defender Nenad Novakovic’s header from Fernandes’ corner-kick, Churchill Brothers’s first which came in the 50th minute, needed Rakshit Dagar to pull off a two-handed save, it showed that the visitors were capable of surprising on the other side of the pitch as well. Then Plaza scored and what was till then a bruising, physical game came alive.

First Published: Feb 17, 2019 19:25 IST