| East Bengal’s Alvito D’Cunha unleashes the matchwinner against Mahindra United in their National Football League match at Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: One great finish by Alvito D’Cunha, some sparkles of individual brilliance and an overall unimpressive show characterised East Bengal’s 1-0 win over Mahindra United in their National Football League (NFL) clash at Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Chandan Das, playing his first match since the lifting of his two-match suspension acquired during the Santosh Trophy, initiated the goal in the match in the 25th minute. The midfielder got hold of a ball in the middle third and invitingly chipped a cross over the Mahindra backline. Alvito, running from behind, headed down the ball inside the box, outsmarted his challenger Syed Hussain with a deft outside dodge and then, unleashed a low powerful grounder which beat goalkeeper Feroz Sheriff all ends up.
Alvito’s finish was, however, an exception to an otherwise general display of listless soccer, coupled with some missed opportunities.
Both teams tried to take control of the midfield, though, for change, it were the visitors who looked more concrete and credulous in making things happen.
“It was just a bad day in office”, was how East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick later described his team’s performance. He, however, quickly added: “Mahindra are experienced and one of the title-contenders. Therefore, three points were what we had wanted against them. How it came about doesn’t matter much to me”.
He also reasserted that it was just the second match for his team in the NFL and the same players would look more organised as the League progresses.
East Bengal have so far maintained an all-win record in the NFL while the Mumbai outfit has won one match and lost two.
Mahindra chief coach Carel Stromcek, on the other hand, rued his strikers’ missed chances and said his team had played better than what they did against Tollygunge Agragami in the previous match.
“We dominated 80-85 minutes in the match, and even created some good chances. But again, we committed one mistake and the match was over,” the former Czech World Cupper said.
Subhas left creative midfielder Shasthi Duley on the bench and started Subhashish Roy Chowdhury on the left along with Arun Malhotra in defence. This was a move aimed at interpreting the opponents’ moves with more caution and less aggression. Mike Okoro was left alone upfront, as a result of which Mahindra defence that looked vulnerable against Tollygunge, had a less difficult time in handling pressure.
In the seventh minute, Hussain, who was booked for a foul on Malswamtluanga, delivered a long cross for R.C. Prakash, but the right winger’s goalward attempt didn’t have the power to beat Sandip Nandy under East Bengal bar. However, the move might be viewed as a precursor to Mahindra’s growing confidence in midfield.
Both Chandan, who had to be replaced by Malswamtluanga close to the first half, and captain Anit Ghosh had a torrid time to hold back the rival attacks, pivoting on R.P. Singh and Peter Strandel in midfield and James Singh down the flanks.
Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, who was specifically told to check James’ runs, also was not at his best.
East Bengal, however, had their fair share of opportunities to increase the lead. Once Malswamtluanga misread a Subhashish cross and as the ball landed in front of him, he had an open net and Sheriff completely out of position. But the diminutive midfielder shot straight to the goalkeeper.
On another occasion, Alvito set up a nice square pass for Suley Musah who committed the same mistake from the edge of the box. Then, in the closing minutes of the match, Okoro, conspicuous by the absence of his trademark sprints, failed to send a ball into an open net.
In the second half, East Bengal were lucky to have escaped with two close calls. A Prakash header got deflected off Malhotra while Sandip denied Debjit Ghosh a surefire equaliser with a smothering save.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Suley Musah, Arun Malhotra, Dipak Mondal, Douglas de Silva; Subhashish Roy Chowdhury (Shasthi Duley, 65), S. Venkatesh, Anit Ghosh (Amjad Ali Khan, 82), Alvito D’Cunha, Chandan Das (S. Malswamtluanga, 43); Mike Okoro.
Mahindra United: Feroz Sheriff; Peter Siddiqui, Sur Kumar Singh, Syed Hussain, Odartey Lawson; Debjit Ghosh, James Singh (Parveen Arora, 80), Petr Strandel (Biby Thomas, 86), R.P.Singh; R.C. Prakash (Abhisek Yadav, 70).
Referee: Binod Kumar Singh (Bihar).