EAST BENGAL TODAY MADE A dramatic comeback in the I-League title race by beating league leaders Minerva Punjab FC in their own backyard.
The Red and Golds turned up at Panchkula desperately needing a win to keep their title dreams alive, but their preparations for the game was hampered by heavy rains and unavailability of the main ground for practice. When the game began, the loose grass on the pitch also heavily impacted the flow of their game; but soon they eased into a fits-and-starts game that Minerva Punjab were okay with; since a draw would help the home team.
Early on Ralte got a ball into the net but he was offside. Then Chencho tried to make a few runs but Arnab Mondal stayed on his case. East Bengal's Al-Amnah was being equally cordoned by Minerva defenders who ended up fouling him many times, resulting in multiple advantageous free kicks. But as the first half wore on, the Minervans proved considerable defensive stability by fending off all of them.
Right after the half hour mark Yami failed to convert a well placed through ball from Dudu, leaving the East Bengal bench in anguish. The dozens of East Bengal fans who had travelled for the game had their worries amplified when Kromah was brought down inside the box by Bazie Armand but the referee waved off the penalty call.
As the game entered the second half a similar slow game continued, but controversy lingered as soon Eric Dano's outstretched hand touched the ball inside the box and the referee decided not to respond to the penalty calls again.
Chencho got a chance or two that EB keeper Ubaid promptly saved. And after some more back and forth at the hour mark, the visitors finally broke through, with Cavin Lobo delivering a spectacular finish from just outside the box.
Finally with a lead, East Bengal took to defending hard and as the game went past the 80 minute mark the visitors were being pressed hard but refused to budge. Chencho's curler was saved by Ubaid and William Opoku got a golden opportunity to finish from just feet away into an open net but he bungled it.
Meanwhile, Katsumi Yusa stopped a ball with his hand inside the box and the referee decided not to grant the penalty once again.
Finally, it was a much coveted win for East Bengal. This victory means they are now on 26 points from 14 games, just 3 behind Minerva Punjab (29 points from 14 games).
Since East Bengal have a head-to-head advantage over Minerva Punjab, the league leaders are now under pressure to keep winning otherwise they may lose the summit.
NEROCA are also suddenly looking like they are back in the hunt. They are on 28 points from 15 games, and if they beat Churchill Brothers tomorrow, it will take just one slip from EB and Minerva to put the debutant Manipuri club back in front.