|A pumped up Edeh Chidi (from left), Ryuji Sueoka, Harmanjyot Singh Khabra and Lalrindika Ralte, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture
Calcutta: The problem with being late is not only in the fact that you miss the bus, it’s also about the disappointment that even after your fastest sprint, the bus keeps moving further away from you.
There are still a few matches to go before one gets to know whether Kingfisher East Bengal have missed the bus for the 2013-14 I-League season, but they are sprinting their hearts out at the moment. It earned them a comfortable and convincing 3-1 victory over Pune FC, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Saturday.
But is such impressive display a little late in the day? Will their praiseworthy hat-trick of wins, over Pune FC, Mohammedan Sporting and Sporting Clube de Goa, bring them closer to the title? The irony is, no victory is assurance enough for East Bengal and they will have to hope for current table-toppers Bengaluru FC to slip in their remaining matches. With every Bengaluru FC win, East Bengal’s hopes will fade further into the horizon, like the missed bus.
Bengaluru FC are currently on 41 points and have two more matches to play. East Bengal have three more games to go and have 37 points. If Bengaluru win both their matches, they will move to 47; with three more victories, East Bengal can reach 46. That one point will then be like the sting of a thousand bees.
How good did East Bengal play on Saturday? Well, they were not flawless, but that this was their first hat-trick of wins after almost one-and-a-half years, answers a lot of questions. They realise how close they are to the title and they also realise how far they are from Bengaluru FC.
For East Bengal, Lalrindika Ralte scored two and Edeh Chidi netted one. Pune FC’s goal was scored by Mirjan Pavlovic. East Bengal kept their hopes alive, with only the hopelessly empty stands as witness.
East Bengal went 2-0 up by the half-time. First, in the 18th minute, Chidi met a perfect cross from Ryuji Sueoka, dodged past a Pune defender and slotted it home. The second goal, in the 43rd minute, originated from a Cavin Lobo through which found Sueoka in the open.
The Japanese midfielder’s lazy with-the-ball run allowed Ralte enough time to set himself up unmarked. Sueoka was selfless in passing it Ralte who pushed the ball into the open net.
The second half saw Pune FC play better-organised football. They pulled one back in the 58th minute when Pavlovic beat the off-side trap to fire it in from close. But chances of a Pune FC revival was put to rest when a stinging left-footer from Ralte made it 3-1 for the home side.
Both the sides wasted opportunities, but East Bengal were clearly the better side. Coach Armando Colaco didn’t try anything different, but it seems he has finally made the players realise the gravity of the situation. They have shifted gears, but is it a little late?
East Bengal: Abhra Mondal, Robert Lalthlamuana, Arnab Mondal, Raju Gaikwad, Abhishek Das, Joaquim Abranches (Shylo Malswmtluanga, 68), Cavin Lobo (Seiminlen Doungel, 81), Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, Lalrindika Ralte, Ryuji Sueoka, Edeh Chidi (Gurwinder Singh, 88)
Pune FC: Amrinder Singh, Gurjinder Kumar, Calum James Angus, Salam Ranjan Singh, Srikanth Ramu, Arata Izumi, Gabriel Fernandes (Anthony Desouza, 64), Douhou Pierre (Mumtaz Akhtar, 79), Nicholau Borges (Mirjan Pavlovic, 46), Prakash Thorat, Riga Mustapha Rahamat
Referee: Khamba Singh
MoM: Lalrindika Ralte