| Juliano (right) and Bhaichung Bhutia in an aerial tussle with a JCT defender during their match at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Juliano Martins scored on debut, Climax Lawrence doubled the margin, East Bengal picked up full points to stay within striking distance of frontrunners Dempo. Sounds like a perfect script for India's most successful club team in recent years.
In reality, though, it wasn't as hunky dory as the scoreline suggests. JCT outran the red-and-golds in the second session but lost out on the experience factor to go down 0-2 in the sixth-round match of the NFL-ONGC Cup at Salt Lake Stadium.
The visitors from Phagwara saw more of the ball in the opening 20 minutes and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Douglas da Silva elbowed Sukhjinder Singh off possession just inside the East Bengal penalty box. The nasty foul left the JCT medio with a bleeding nose but forget a spot-kick, referee Dinesh Nair didn't even caution the Brazilian.
It wasn't Douglas' only misdeed of the afternoon. The Brazilian, given an unaccustomed defensive role in the first session, committed at least three more fouls only to get away scot-free every time. And, surprise of surprises, he was adjudged Man-of-the-Match by Parimal Dey and Aloke Mukherjee ' both accomplished former players.
Once the East Bengal midfield settled down, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Climax, Chandan Das and Syed Rahim Nabi ensured a bright spell of play which saw two fluent moves and a goal.
Surya Bikash Chakraborty put through Climax who, in turn, set Malsawmtluanga on the run down the right wing. A delightful chip-centre found Juliano on top of the box. The Brazilian diverted the ball goalwards but missed the mark by a couple of feet.
Two minutes later, Juliano made amends albeit with some help from JCT custodian Mansuru Mohammed. Chandan Das picked up a Nabi square pass and, from about 25 yards out, fired a grounder. It didn't have too much punch nor was it perfectly directed. But Mansuru, instead of gripping the ball, let it bounce off his body. Juliano was at the right spot and pounced on the rebound.
The one miss and a hit apart, the tall and lanky Brazilian did just about enough during his 66-minute presence (before being replaced by Ernest Jeremiah) to send the 30,000-odd fans home in an optimistic frame of mind. There were a couple of deft touches, and more encouragingly, a willingness to fall down and build an attack. Of course, it's too early to pass judgment on his quality.
Bhaichung Bhutia didn't have a great match, Nigerian Julius Akpele and Harpreet bottling him up quite effectively. And with the East Bengal midfield looking rather ragged with every passing minute, it was time for JCT to do some serious probing.
Cohesive functioning was at a premium, but there were as many as five shots at the East Bengal goal in the second session. Three of them could have spelt danger ' Julius' left-footer from an advantageous position was off target, Hardeep Gill punched hard but straight to Sangram Mukherjee and Sukhwinder Singh's 35-yard pile-driver was tipped over the bar by the 'keeper.
East Bengal, who were living dangerously, got the insurance goal in the nick of time. Malsawmtluanga controlled a Bhaichung pass, evaded the JCT left-back and floated a centre at the near post for Climax to nod in neatly.
Even on a day they performed below-par, East Bengal pocketed three points. That's the quality champions are made of.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Surya Bikash Chakraborty (Shasthi Duley, 52), Selwyn Fernandes, M. Suresh, Douglas da Silva, Syed Rahim Nabi, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Chandan Das, Climax Lawrence (Habibur Rahman, 80), Juliano Martins (Ernest Jeremiah, 66), Bhaichung Bhutia.
JCT: Mansuru Mohammed, Jagjit Randhawa, Harpreet Singh, Julius Akpele, K.V. Dhanesh, Baldeep Singh (Surjit Singh, 70), Sukhjinder Singh, Sukhwinder Singh (Jaswinder Singh, 46), Rampal, Harvinder Singh (Hardeep Gill, 54), Manjit Singh.
Referee: Dinesh Nair.