| Assam goalkeeper Sankar Barman punches the ball headed by Bengal’s Amar Pyne in their quarter final league tie in Imphal Friday. Bengal won 2-1. (PTI)
Imphal: Title favourites Bengal struggled to beat Assam 2-1 in Group A while Services held Maharashtra 1-1 in Group B as the quarter final round robin league of the LG Santosh Trophy got underway on Friday.
Bengal will meet defending champions Kerala in their next match on October 27.
Dipendu Biswas and Amar Pyne gave Bengal a 2-0 lead inside the first half, before Assam pulled one back through Sanjiba Rongpi after the changeover, in a match, which hardly rose to the spectators’ expectations.
Bengal coach Surbata Bhattacharya, who arrived here hours before the match, and supervised it from the second half, was happy with the performance of his boys. “They played quite well, despite most of them being juniors,” the coach said.
Bengal got off to a dream start, taking the lead in as early as the sixth minute.
The referee awarded a spot-kick in favour of Bengal when an Assam player handled the ball inside the dreaded area. Leading scorer Dipendu Biswas converted it to take his tally to eight from three matches.
Assam came close to neutralise the lead in the 18th minute but their striker Rongpi hesitated to take a shot from an advantageous position.
A minute later, Sandip Das chested down a long cross nicely inside the box. Instead of taking a shot himself, he tried to pass it to another player and in the way, the opportunity was lost.
Then, seven minutes later, a Dipendu header struck the crossbar, before Pyne made it 2-0 for Bengal.
He got hold of the ball following a corner from the left and took a powerful shot, leaving Assam custodian clueless to the strike.
Assam increased their attacks after the break and their efforts finally bore fruit in the 65th minute. Rongpi found the target despite presence of four Bengal players around him.
The next match between Services and Maharashtra, however, was highly competitive in a sharp contrast to the previous one.
Maharashtra scored the first goal through Altafuddin Hameed in second minute of the play. Services goalkeeper Abungobi Singh missed the flight of a long cross from the flank and Hameed shot in a perfect right footer. Both sides missed several opportunities as the scoreboard read 1-0 at the end of the first half.
Services, however, pressed for early attacks after the break and got the equaliser within three minutes, when Pradeep Debnath slammed home a powerful shot.
Subrata, meanwhile, strongly protested against the organisers’ decision to schedule all Bengal matches at midday. In fact, Bengal’s next match against has also been scheduled at 12 O’clock.
Subrata said the time was too hot to play. “It is too hot to play. How can we play all the matches in such an odd time' This is affecting our performance,” an agitated coach later said.
He also came down on them for not allowing replacement of two of his registered players with new ones.
Subrata asked replacement of Ashim Biswas and Rahim Nabi, now with the Indian squad for the AFC under-20 meet, with Sunil Chhetri and Jayanta Sen.
Such a move was taken following India’s progress to quarter finals in the Qatar meet, which means the duo can not join the Bengal squad for the time being.
“Ashim and Nabi’s absence means we have only 18 players now. The two are playing for the country and they made us proud by helping India qualify for the quarters.
In this perspective, the organisers should have allowed us to replace the two with new players,” Subrata said.
He also added that he would be lodging a formal complaint against the match schedule and refusal to replace players.