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Stalemate at Salt Lake

- Dogged Mohammedan Sporting split points with EB

East Bengal’s Edeh Chidi (left) vies for the ball with Mohammedan Sporting’s Mehrajuddin Wadoo, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Thursday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: A win on Thursday could have taken East Bengal a step closer to their fourth successive CFL title.

However, they will have to wait a little longer with Mohammedan Sporting matching them in all facets of the game, as the championship-round encounter, here, at the Salt Lake Stadium, ended goalless.

Armando Colaco might well be happy man, as his team is now on top of the table with 22 points, remaining unbeaten in the competition despite a tight schedule. However, the chinks in his armour were once again exposed. And it wouldn’t be unfair at all to say that Mohammedan Sporting were the better side on the day.

East Bengal, meanwhile, were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men even though Arnab Mondal wore the wrong jersey number (19, which is that of Robert Lalthlamuana) — a red card offence — for around five minutes after the change-over.

“Robert and I were sitting beside each other in the dressing room. Mistakenly, I wore his jersey before we headed back to the field,” Arnab said after the match.

This was Mohammedan Sporting’s first appearance since Sanjoy Sen’s comeback as a replacement for coach Abdul Aziz Moshood. Of course, there haven’t been any changes overnight, but the Joshimars and Mehrajuddin Wadoos did prove that they could be extremely tough competitors if guided properly.

Joshimar troubled the East Bengal defence on several occasions, but poor execution and lack of support poured cold water on his efforts. In the seventh minute, Joshimar charged through the middle and released Israil Gurung on the left. Fortunately for East Bengal, the latter shot way off the target.

Midway during the second session, Joshimar set the same player up with another opportunity, an easier one this time around. And again, Israil committed the same mistake, blasting a right-footer way over the horizontal.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, too, came to East Bengal’s rescue by denying Ashim Biswas. Anthony Soren, who was extremely handy in the midfield, gained control of the ball with a wonderful interception before passing it for Ashim, whose attempt was then deflected by Gurpreet, diving on to his left.

Defensively too, Mohammedan Sporting fared better than their opponents with Mehrajuddin playing a marker’s role to perfection, thwarting James Moga and Edeh Chidi (who later replaced the South Sudanese).

The former India international, though, could have been guilty of conceding a penalty as early as in the fourth minute when he tripped Cavin Lobo close to the target.

Referee Prabir Dhar, however, thought otherwise and awarded East Bengal with a free-kick instead.

Precisely, it was in the midfield where Mohammedan Sporting outshone their rivals. Soren and Manish Maithani combined very well to neutralise East Bengal’s midfield, which has been their strength over the last few seasons. No wonder Mehtab Hussain’s absence was being felt.

Chances were there for Colaco’s men as well. East Bengal could certainly have scored had Moga not been below par inside the six-yard circle.

A grounder from Ryuji Sueoka, the man to initiate the majority of East Bengal’s attacks, came off the far post, off Lalrindika Ralte’s centre, in the 69th minute.

But all said and done, if Mohammedan Sporting continue to perform this way, other teams are sure to have sleepless nights for the remainder of the season.

TEAMS

East Bengal: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Naoba Singh, Arnab Mondal, Gurwinder Singh, Saumik Dey, Reisangmi Vashum (Seiminlen Doungel, 54), Ryuji Suoeka, Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, Lalrindika Ralte, Cavin Lobo (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 89), James Moga (Edeh Chidi 75)

Mohammedan Sporting: Louis Barreto, Nirmal Chhetri, Luciano Sabrosa, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, R.Dhanarajan, Israil Gurung (Jerry Zirsanga, 71), Anthony Soren, Manish Maithani, Syed Rahim Nabi, Joshimar, Ashim Biswas (Samson Singh, 80)

Referee: Prabir Dhar

MoM: Anthony Soren