| East Bengal striker Mike Okoro takes a shot at the ITI goal at Salt Lake Stadium Saturday. Okoro struck in East Bengal's 1-0 win. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: It was a match of many hues. East Bengal scored one, missed many, let ITI come close on several occasions — including a penalty — but still went home with a 1-0 win in Saturday’s National Football League 15th-round match at Salt Lake Stadium.
The win took Subhas Bhowmick’s team’s tally to 37 points, well on top of the table — 10 clear of nearest contenders Salgaocar and 11 of Mohun Bagan — and the coach might start thinking now that the gap between the cup and the lip is narrowing.
It was Mike Okoro once again who scored for East Bengal — for the 13th time in the competition — and took another step towards emerging highest scorer. But the Nigerian would also rue the fact that he could have scored a few more, so would some of his teammates.
And so would ITI. The Bangalore team, which will be relegated even in case of a miracle, succeeded in managing a few looks at the East Bengal goal and not always against the run of play. But as many as three saves from the goalline and the missed penalty put paid to their efforts. They stay on a miserable four-point mark after 15 outings.
The first half didn’t suggest that the difference between the teams was of 30 points. East Bengal dominated, primarily down the right, but ITI also moved up, at times alarmingly. Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy was woefully wrong in judging almost everything and had to be replaced as early as in the 28th minute.
East Bengal struck in the 12th minute. Surya Bikash Chakraborty’s floater from the right was headed on by K. Kulothungan from the near post. It looked like an attempt on goal but rolled across the face of the goal to an unmarked Okoro towards the far post and the Nigerian just had to tap in.
It seemed as if the visitors would be drowned in a deluge of goals thereafter. But it turned out to be a different story for the rest of the first half. Deepak Mondal effected two goalline saves and when Chandan Das’ challenge on Ibrahim Karim Alhasan following a corner prompted the referee to point to the spot in the 21st minute, an equaliser looked imminent. Only, Jude Nwadu’s shot hit the horizontal.
In the second half, East Bengal, however, forced several opportunities, only to spurn them all. The left flank got going with the introduction of Subhas Chakraborty and threatening moves from both ends flooded the ITI box. The scoreline didn’t change as Okoro, S. Malsawmtluanga and S. Venkatesh failed to hit the target from close.
ITI came close again in the dying minutes and looked certain to score, but Surya Bikash effected another goalline save. The win, achieved in a 4-4-2 format rather than Bhowmick’s preferred 3-5-2, stands East Bengal in good stead ahead of Tuesday’s prestige clash against Mohun Bagan.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy (Sangram Mukherjee, 28); Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Sashthi Duley; Chandan Das, S. Malsawmtluanga, S. Venkatesh, Alvito D’Cunha (Subhash Chakraborty, 66); Mike Okoro, K. Kulothungan.
ITI: Gumpe Rime; Sunil Kumar, A.S. Firoz, Seth Osei (Jiten Rai, 34, J. Murali, 68), Akshay Das; Raghui Singh, S. Dhanesh, Najeeb, James Singh; Jude Nwadu, Ibrahim Karim Alhasan (Niaz Rehman, 30).
Referee: Kishan Avtaar.