New Delhi: In their opening Group B quarter final league match of the 116th Durand Cup NFL champions East Bengal displayed the same frailties that are giving coach Subash Bhowmick the jitters. The holders ultimately won 3-2 over Indian Bank, but only that. Defensive lapses, wayward finishes and lack of rhythm are still major areas of concern.
In another match, Air India, who replaced Mohun Bagan, beat qualifiers Jammu and Kashmir Bank 2-1 in Group D.
A brace by national skipper Bhaichung Bhutia and a lucky deflection by Mike Okoro enabled the just-crowned Calcutta league champions procure three points. Indian Bank, Chennai are eliminated with zero points. However, East Bengal now must win vs Dempo on Thursday. The Goa team are also on three points, but have a better goal difference (3) than East Bengal (1).
A sluggish start saw the Calcutta giants a goal down within two minutes. With the back three in slumber, a long ball found M. Mani in space. Unchallenged Mani lobbed over goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee. The equaliser was opportunistic by Bhaichung, his first in the Durand tournament since 1995 when Alvito D’Cunha’s curling corner kick was firmly headed goalwards.
Stoppers Sudhakar and Anthony Noel collided in trying to save the ball and it struck them and entered the net.
East Bengal were finally getting into the groove. Numerous chances were wasted, the easiest being at the half-hour, when Bhaichung’s deft flick put Okoro through. The Nigerian striker, who is going through a lean patch, surged past the defenders but from inside the six-yard box inexplicably shot over. Three minutes after half time, Bhaichung struck once again, Subash Chakraborty’s low cross deflected by overlapping Subashish Roy Chowdhury to the striker who bulged the netting with a crisp left-footer.
In the second half Bhowmick tried out the rusty Shankarlal Chakraborty and the scarcely used Arunava Sarkar in midfield. However, they could not provide the cutting edge and Bhowmick sorely missed a creative central midfielder like Douglas da Silva or Tushar Rakshit .
In the 80th minute, Shylo Malsawmtluanga made a weaving run down the right, past two defenders and struck goalwards from a narrow angle. The ball struck the post and rebounded to Okoro whose accidental header entered the netting.
Inept supervision led to the Indian Bank reducer in the 84th minute. Overlapping right back Rajesh Kumar Pandey tugged at Subash Chakraborty’s jersey, but the referee and assistant S. M. Balu waved ‘play on’. Pandey snatched the ball and crossed to the far post. The East Bengal defence froze and Sangram also did not leave his line to deal with a high cross. A gleeful striker Joseph headed in at the far post.
J&K Bank were leading via Manzoor Dar’s 25th minute goal, until Naushad Moosa equalised from the spot in the 50th minute. Air India then struck the winner in the 82nd minute through Vijita Shetty.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Sur Kumar Singh, Suley Musah, Mahesh Gawli, Subashish Roy Chowdhury (Shankarlal Chakraborty, 64), Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Debjit Ghosh, Subash Chakraborty, Alvito D’Cunha (Arunava Sarkar, 78), Bhaichung Bhutia, Mike Okoro.
Indian Bank: Felix Edward, Rajesh Kumar Pandey, Sudhakar, Anthony Noel, Roopesh, Ananadvasan, P.S. Rawat, M. Mani, Amjad Hussain, Joseph and Syed Shabir Pasha.
Referee: Manuel Pereira.
Wednesday’s matches: Salgaocar vs Mohammedan Sporting; Mahindra United vs JCT.