EAST BENGAL DUSTED THEMSELVES off and started their journey forward after the 0-0 upset against Aryan by positively mauling Bengal and Nagpur Railways in a 6-0 rampage. The win gets their quest for a 6th straight Calcutta Football League triumph back on track as they go to the top of the table with 7 points from 3 matches, sealing an early advantage over arch-rivals Mohun Bagan who are on 2 points after 2 matches.
With Ranti Martins yet to gain full fitness, the surprise in the East Bengal starting line up was the inclusion of new signing Bello Razaq, making his debut for his new club. It was also the Red and Golds' first start with two foreigners this season, the other being the Man of the Match from the previous game, Do Dong-hyun.
The match started with East Bengal cautiously probing the BNR defence from the outset. Their first chance to score came in the 3rd minute when Mohammed Rafique's lob managed to get past BNR keeper Anupam but ended up too wide. Over the next few minutes an almost one-sided barrage of attacks unfolded as the BNR defence desperately foiled attempts from corners, free kicks and good old runs up the wings or the middle. They did manage to rise in counter once or twice, like in the 19th minute when Pahoon charged forward and sent a cross into the box that James failed to head home. But it all came to nought.
Around the 24th minute, Prohlad Roy on the right flank was fed by Deepak. He ran ahead, watching for Mohammed Rafique to come up parallelly into the BNR penalty box. When the forward who scored the trophy-clinching goal for ATK in the ISL final was in position, Prohlad sent in the corss, and a well-timed header from Rafique did the rest. East Bengal were 1-0 up.
Minutes later, debutant defender Bello Razaq received a cross from Bikash Jairu. He let fly and the ball went in. 2-0. Another couple of minutes passed and Bikash Jairu sent a high one into the box, which Prohlad put a header on, and Anupam dutifully deflected for a corner. By now BNR defence were under seige, with no way out but to launch a counter-offensive.
And they tried. James received a ball up front, went into East Bengal box, beat Barreto with a half turn, took the shot... but missed the big wide goal in front of him. East Bengal immediately reiterated with a counter, and Harmanjot Khabra's shot kissed the post on its way out. Half-time arrived with East Bengal with a solid 2-0 lead, and BNR defenders on the verge of entering a paranoid state.
A while into the second half, new star signing from South Korea, Do Dong-hyun, scored his maiden goal for East Bengal. He was invading the box, and the BNR keeper was coming ahead to put a stop to that. Dong-hyun sent the ball floating above the Anupam's goal and down again, then hopping happily into the net. The crowd stood up and appluded their new hero, but the player was far from done. He continued to probe for more openings. He sent a cross in for Rafique but it was intercepted by Anupam. But once the match entered its last 10 minutes of regulation time things went up a notch.
Bello Razaq sent it ahead to newly introduced Jiten Murmu who fed Dong, who invaded BNR box and took the shot, leading the ball to hit Anupam and come back, then put the finishing move on it. Second goal for Dong and East Bengal were 4-0 up.
But Jiten Murmu wasn't happy with just an assist. When in added time Tulunga, another substitute, sent in a cross from the right wing he fired it right past the keeper, five nil to East Bengal.
Do Dong-hyun then went on to round it up next minute by completing his hat-trick. The match ended with a massive 6-0 victory for East Bengal.
Although BNR are hardly title race material, a win by this kind of margin is a huge confidence boost for Biswajit Bhattacharya's boys. After being criticised for being weak finishers for missing a number of chances in their first two matches, the Red and Golds finally saw their new-look forward line make it rain aplenty. Their new signings, Dong and Bello, got goals, as did their young forward Jiten Murmu. On the handful of occasions when BNR put some pressure on the East Bengal defence, they did not budge or appear shaky. After a difficult, rain-drenhced pre-season and a slow start to their CFL campaign, the team finally seems to have fallen into the beat. Now set firmly at the top of the table, the Red and Golds will have to defend their position, and if they are successful, they will achieve the historic feat of winning the CFL 6 times in a row, for the second time.
But they will have to hold their own in the 7 more back-to-back intense games in order to get there, including the two Derby matches against Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan. So the tournament is far from over, and the biggest tests for Bhattacharya's boys are yet to come. All eyes are now on 23rd August, when East Bengal take on Mohammedan, in the game marking the first definitve milestone in the CFL title race.