| James: Second blow to current leaders
Mumbai: East Bengal’s apparently smooth path to success in the seventh Oil PSU National Football League met with a sudden speedbreaker at the Cooperage on Wednesday when Mahindra United upset the table toppers 2-0.
The Mumbai outfit scored once in each half, putting a wet blanket on the red-and-gold’s celebration of lifting the premier title second time.
However, adding further blows to the Calcutta outfit, second-placed Vasco SC kept themselves in the fray, by hammering HAL 8-0 in Margao in another match. Their thumping win closed the gap between the first two teams to six points with three more matches to go.
It was also a bad day in office for Calcutta teams as defending champions Mohun Bagan, currently out of the championship chase, went down 0-1 to JCT in Ludhiana, Jo Paul Ancheri being the scorer.
Former Durand Cup winners Mahindra went ahead through winger Mongba Aby Samson’s superb free-kick from the top of the box in the 33rd minute and increased their lead in the 66th minute when medio James Singh was bang on target with a left footer off Samson’s cross from the left.
Mahindra thus garnered 26 points while East Bengal remained on 43 after 19 matches.
| Gomes : Four goals including hattrick
A rejuvenated Mahindra made the first good move in the eighth minute when winger Khalid Jamil shot wide with just the custodian Sandip Nandy to beat. In the 30th minute East Bengal striker Alvito D’cunha’s free kick was well saved by goalkeeper Naseem Akhtar, who had a fantastic match.
Three minutes later the home team took the lead and soon after East Bengal medio S. Malswamtluanga’s try forced another smothering save from the agile Akhtar.
Akhtar again came to his team’s rescue when he fisted away Dipankar Roy’s goalward attempt. The rebound went to fellow medio Chandan Das, but he failed to pierce the Mahindra defence in a melee.
Five minutes from the interval, East Bengal looked like scoring but Akhtar again denied playmaker Shasthi Duley’s try. This was followed by another close shave for the local team when the plucky Mahindra custodian palmed away Subhas Chakraborty’s quickly-taken shot and the resultant rebound was then booted over by M. Suresh.
East Bengal still came close to scoring even twenty minutes after the second goal was scored, but substitute S. Venkatesh shot over a Chakraborty pass.
Four goals in each half
It was vintage show from the Vasco as the title aspirants notched up the biggest ever win in the tournament.
Agnelo Gomes scored four goals, including a hattrick, leading his demolition job of the Bangalore outfit at the Nehru Stadium.
Vasco, who registered four goals in each half, scored through Marcus Pereira (4th, 15th) Gomes (32nd, 55th, 56th, 58th), Menino Fernandes (35th) and Rui Wanderlei Weis (82nd).
HAL (on eight points so far), who are relegated along with ITI, came near scoring thrice but Dyanand, Xavier Vijaykumar and Sunil Kumar failed to get past keeper Rogerio Ramos.
The win not only helped Vasco close the gap with East Bengal but also drastically reduced the goal difference between the two. While East Bengal still enjoy a ratio of 37-20, Vasco gave it a healthy look of 33-16.
In a well-contested match, JCT prevailed over Mohun Bagan at the Guru Nanak Stadium here. But in the end JCT had the last laugh, earning three points to take their tally to 34 while Bagan had 29 points to share the fifth spot with Dempo Sports Club.
Ancheri stunned Bagan defence when his powerful header from close had given no chance for goalkeeper Bivash Ghosh to react in the 50th minute.
Trailing by a goal, Bagan players made gallant efforts for the equaliser but failed to cut much ice, as JCT crowded their defence and managed to hang to the slender lead till the end.
Meanwhile, in Bangalore, Salgaocar SC struck thrice in the second half to run away with a comfortable win over ITI.
Jatin Bist, substitute Prashnath Jaggi and Dharmjit Singh netted a goal apiece to ensure Salgaocar’s victory and help increase the team points tally to 35.