Pune: Harmanjot Singh Khabra struck a brace as East Bengal blanked Air India 3-0 in an I-League match, at the Balewadi Sports Complex Stadium, here on Saturday.
It was Air India’s fourth loss in five matches and they are now down to 13th, one below Mumbai FC.
Khabra scored in the 37th and 64th minutes to underline East Bengal’s dominance as Trevor James Morgan showed his strategy to start with 4-3-3 formation with Edeh Chidi, Manandeep Singh and Ishfaq Ahmed upfront paid off.
Penn Orji scored in the 75th minute to complete the rout.
East Bengal took control the match after Henry Ezeh missed a chance for the ‘home side’ in the 26th minute. Henry had the ball with him with no defender to challenge him, but his hasty left-footed drive was way off the post.
Air India showed some resilience, but their efforts came in patches. Pune-bred Prakash Thorat tried his best to live up to the expectations of his vocal supporters, but in vain.
In the 30th minute, Thorat was well-placed in the box, but his header flew over leaving Air India coach Godfred Pereira furious.
By this time, East Bengal had a measure of the Air India defence and the Calcutta side began moving up with midfielders Penn Orji and Mehtab Hossain sending neat through passes to the frontliners.
East Bengal’s effort soon bore results as Harmanjot Khabra ran down the flank to surprise Air India defence before slotting in the first goal.
Five minutes later, Manandeep was in with a chance, but his strike went in vain. In the added time of the first half, Vijith Shetty’s over-exuberance earned him a yellow card that was totally avoidable.
On changing ends, Morgan went for substitutions and that proved fruitful.
Ishfaq was replaced by Sanju Pradhan in the 58th minute and then Lalrindika Ralte came in place young Manandeep.
The changes upfront gave fresh legs and new ideas and it was again Khabra who latch onto a loose ball to make it 2-0. (agencies)