New Delhi: East Bengal’s I-League aspirations suffered a jolt on Tuesday when they went down to ONGC 0-1 at the Ambedkar Stadium. Japanese playmaker Yusa Katsumi dealt the killer blow with an impressive strike in the 86th minute and was later adjudged the Man of the Match.
The defeat left the red-and-gold brigade stranded at the third place in the league table even after playing two matches more than leaders Churchill Brothers and Pune FC. While East Bengal have collected 27 points after 14 outings, Churchill and Pune have 28 points, each at the end of their 12th round matches.
Once the darling of the crowd at the Ambedkar Stadium, known as the Mecca of Delhi football, East Bengal were largely disappointing. Playing their first match in the capital in two years, the Calcutta team huffed and puffed only to concede a goal when there was little time left to hit back.
But then, East Bengal should have wrapped up the tie in the first half when they missed at least three chances. Coach Trevor Morgan was right when he said later: “I have no disrespect for the rivals but a 3-1 verdict in our favour should have been the right result.”
The British coach, however, had no answer to why his strikers faltered at the goalmouth. Three days ba-ck, Edeh Chidi and Robin Sin-gh played hav-oc with the Salgaocar defence in Goa but on Tuesday the duo was least effective. When quizzed why Robin messed up a couple of easy headers, an embarrassed Morgan smiled and said: “Let’s keep that discussion for the changing room”.
The coach went for a three-pronged attack in the end as he introduced Manandeep Singh but the move did not help the team.
Katsumi’s goal was very much on card as he was beating the East Bengal defence time and again. It was a very fine goal as he cut past a couple of defenders on the left and then beat Abhijit Mondal under the bar with a controlled right-footed shot. “Not all is lost,” Morgan said. “It was a blow but not a knock-out one… We are still in the race. Out of the 10 matches left, we should win at least seven or eight… The next 10 days will be very crucial,” the coach observed. Out of the last four matches, East Bengal have lost three.
While credit to ONGC for playing well deep in the defence, East Bengal’s one-dimensional attacking style also helped the home team’s cause.
ONGC: Rehensh TP, Robin Gurung (Lalrinmuana 85'), Waheed Sali, A.Hassan, A.Naresh (Bimal Minz 92'), Sachin Gawas, Jatin Bisht, Sandeep Sangha, Yusa Katsumi, Lalnunpuia, Kenistan C (Kailash Patil-69')
East Bengal: Abhijit Mondal, T.Naoba Singh (Raju Gaikwad 83'), Uga Okpa-ra, Arnab Mond-al, Saumik Dey (Manandeep Sin-gh 80'), Isfaq Ah-med (R.Vashum 65'), Penn Orji, Mehtab Hussain, Lalrindika Ralte, Edeh Chidi, Robin Singh.
Referee: CR Srikirshna