| Bhaichung Bhutia jubilates after scoring against Ever-Ready at the East Bengal ground on Monday. East Bengal won 2-1. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Two spectacular goals and Bhaichung Bhutia’s relentless urge to surpass himself earned East Bengal a hard-fought 2-1 win over Ever-Ready Association in Monday’s Super Division League match.
Returning to the local league after the highs and lows of the ASEAN Club Championship and Federation Cup, East Bengal faced a team that is trying to make a mark and after ensuring full points even Subhas Bhowmick admitted Ever-Ready had done well.
Despite forcing their rivals deep into their defensive zone, East Bengal were struggling to open the goalmouth. The spectre of a barren first half was looming large before Douglas came up with a surprise left-footer from 36 yards out that dipped viciously before nestling into the goal in the 37th minute.
The East Bengal goal had survived a serious scare in the 29th minute, but soon after the break Ever-Ready did better. Subhashish Roy Chowdhury nastily challenged Liberian striker Eugene Grey inside the box, and Ever-Ready’s Nigerian recruit Earnest Jeremia made no mistake with the resultant penalty.
With the spectators growing impatient, East Benagl found a saviour in Bhutia in the 70th minute. The striker was tightly marked throughout and was often falling back in search of open space. But the goal underlined his irrepressible hunger for success.
Douglas had lobbed the ball high from well inside the East Bengal half, and with three markers in tow, Bhutia barely had the space and time to receive and turn. He took the ball on chest, which wrongfooted one defender, turned in a flash that fooled another and unleashed a peach of a volley with the left foot from 16 yards out. The goalkeeper could only watch and admire.
The goal spurred Bhutia into action and he came close minutes later, but this time, his rasping drive off a pass from Alvito D’Cunha forced a smart save from former East Bengal goalkeeper Kalyan Chowbey.
It was a difficult match for the heavywights. Several of their frontliners are yet to recover after the gruelling ASEAN Club Championship campaign, and with Ever-Ready defending doggedly, they found the going tough.
Ever-Ready made it a point to have ten men behind the ball whenever the ball reached their half and made it impossible for East Bengal to attack down the middle by crowding the area near the box. They also restricted East Bengal’s vaunted raids down the right.
Crosses from that flank, however, still kept coming but Suley Musah — partnering Bhutia upfront in the first half — couldn’t meet any of them. The East Bengal captain was also guilty of missing an easy chance after being set up by Shylo Malsawmtluanga in the 23rd minute.
But the more objectionable part of Musah’s game on Monday was his behaviour. Time and again in the second half he lost his cool and got involved in semi-fisticuffs with Grey. His gestures could have incited the crowd as well. Bhowmick defended his man. “Whatever he did was for the team.”
Though there was no doubting East Bengal’s supremacy, Ever-Ready also moved up, trying to use the vast open space in the rival half. The East Bengal defence was under pressure whenever Grey and Jeremia combined and at times, they combined well.
Following one such move in the 29th minute, Grey’s shot grazed the post and went out of play. The entire East Bengal defence was comprehensively beaten and Grey had the goalkeeper at his mercy.
The win took East Bengal to 18 points after six outings. Ever-Ready, coached by Shankar Banerjee in place of Amal Dutta who is sick, have 14 from nine and are very much in the race for a berth in the elite Super Six phase.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Mahesh Gawli, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury (Bijen Singh, 51), Debjit Ghosh; Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Douglas da Silva, Dipankar Roy (Alvito D’Cunha, 27), Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Subhas Chakraborty; Suley Musah, Bhaichung Bhutia.
Ever-Ready: Klayan Chowbey; Rajib Ahmed, Wajid Ali, Surojit Chakraborty, Bimal Sarkar; Jayanta Sen, Biswaroop Bishu, Mohammed Rafique, Satyajit Bose (Surojit Chakraborty, 80); Eugene Grey, Earnest Jeremia.
Referee: Gopinath Pyne.