| East Bengal striker Gilmar Goncalves (right) in a tussle for the ball with Salgaocar defender Covan Lawrence at Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: East Bengal are in the middle of a beautiful dream. And that dream run continued well into Sunday evening when they edged out Salgaocar, Goa 2-1 in a National Football League match marked by some exquisite football. The goals for the city giants, scored by Gilmar Goncalves and Mike Okoro are testimony to this.
This season has seen the red-and-gold brigade criticised for playing unattractive football. But with the wealth of talent at their disposal, it was just a matter of time before they silenced the naysayers. Equally heartening was Salgaocarís fabulous fight back in the second session.
East Bengal started off in whirlwind fashion with their midfield working well. Alvito DíCunha was once again outstanding. When a left-footed player operates down the right, it becomes uncomfortable for the opposition defence. And Alvito was doing just that. His incisive runs were giving Salgaocar a torrid time.
And Alvito found an ally in Gilmar, who mesmerised with his beautiful touch-play. The Brazilian, playing as genuine striker, shuffled his position, set up balls, and to cap it all, scored a brilliant goal.
The left-footer he took about 20 yards away in the 20th minute did not give Salgaocar íkeeper Juje Siddi a chance.
Nine minutes later, the Brazilian set one up for Sashthi Duley but he missed with Siddi at his mercy. But the game turned on its head in the second session. Salgaocar coach Savio Madeira brought in Dudu Omagbemi in the second half in place of Alex Ambrose. His presence, along with Sunday Seah upfront, increased the edge.
They also took up the pace of the game by a few notches and started attacking through the middle. And East Bengal missed their Brazilian defender Douglas de Silva badly. There was no one to block the attacks that slashed into East Bengal territory with agonising regularity. And Chandan Das, playing in place of Douglas, having a bad day, did not help their cause either.
Dudu often fell back and helped the midfielders take control of the middle-third. The striking feature of the Goa side is that they run in the same pace all through the match and that helped them increase men in attack and defence as and when necessary.
East Bengal missed out on a trick as they tried to play in the same pace with Salgaocar when it was mandatory to slow down the game.
The local side could easily have been reduced to ten men when Sandip Nandy handled the ball outside the goal area, but referee P.K. Basu overlooked. But they equalised four minutes later when the ever-dependable Dipak Mondal made a hash of a Tomba Singh centre and Dudu lurking nearby, slotted it in.
East Bengal again came very close to conceding another goal when Duduís tap in from close after a misunderstanding among East Bengal defenders was saved by Arun Malhotra from the goalline.
But just when it seemed that city giants would concede their second draw, Okoro, who missed a sitter earlier, clinched the victory in the injury time from an excellent move.
Gilmarís first-time pass found Malsawmtluanga on the right and his measured centre was beautifully connected by Okoro. The victory left East Bengal on 16 points from six games while Salgaocar are on seven.
EAST BENGAL: Sandip Nandy, Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Arun Malhotra, Dipak Mondal; m. suresh, Shashthi Duley, S. Venkatesh (S. Malsawmtluanga, 73), Chandan Das (Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, 62), Alvito DíCunha (K. Kulothungan, 81); Gilmar Goncalves, Mike Okoro.
SALGAOCAR: Juje Siddi; Bello Rassaq, Roberto Fernandes, Covan Lawrence, Manitombi Singh (Prashant Jaggi, 46); Jos Esteves, Jatin S. Bisht (Dharamjit Singh, 84), Climax Lawrence, Tomba Singh; Alex Ambrose (Dudu Omagbemi, 46), Sunday Seah.
Referee: P.K. Basu (Madhya Pradesh)
Bhowmick in bother
East Bengal coach Subhash Bhowmick was involved in an untoward incident at the end of the match. Some spectators unhappy with the teamís show, passed some remarks and the coach retorted. As both the parties were on the verge of exchanging blows, the East Bengal officials intervened.