| Eastern Railway players with the Tata Steel cluster championship trophy which they received from Syed Saba Karim (right) after beating Ever-Ready at the Howrah Stadium Sunday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Ever-Ready climbed the Calcutta Football League ladder steadily to reach the elite division last year. They made bigger headlines at the start of this season after roping in a sponsor, a handful of established footballers and, most importantly, a man who answers to the name of Amal Datta.
A month into his new job, Datta faced his first examination Sunday when Eastern Railway challenged Ever-Ready for a berth in the IFA Shield. He was very much in business for 96 minutes, but Henry Odogo ruined his happiness in the 97th.
The burly Nigerian striker, Eastern Railway’s first foreign recruit, fired a golden goal after regulation time had gone barren to give Sankar Moitra’s team the Tata Steel Cluster championship crown.
It was a rude awakening for Ever-Ready who had been unbeaten in seven matches this season — five in the cluster meet and two in Super Division. They had a fair sprinkling of youth and experience, but didn’t quite gell the way Datta would have liked them to.
Kalyan Chowbey was sound under the bar, Jayanta Sen showed glimpses of his playmaking skills and young Crespin Chhetri was quite a livewire down the right corridor. But Dulal Biswas failed to make his presence felt before limping out with an injury, while Liberian striker Eugene Gray proved an embarrassment in front of the rival goal.
The three best chances of the game all came Gray’s way — none easier than the one in the 20th minute. Jayanta fooled the Railway defence — which otherwise stood up to the test rather well — and squared the ball for an unmarked Gray. Six yards from the goal, with custodian Tapan Karmakar having given up, Gray incredibly managed to push the ball wide off target!
The coach, however, didn’t blame it on his players and preferred to find a scapegoat in the IFA. “We have been made to play eight matches in three weeks… the Shield is a long way away, couldn’t the IFA have scheduled the cluster final later'” said Datta, who has never been known to be a graceful loser.
Eastern Railway, a low-budget team which used personal funds from the likes of its coach to rope in Odogo, were the more organised unit, playing some pleasing passes on the build-ups only to lose way in the striking zone. They depended too much on Odogo, who couldn’t play last year because his international transfer clearance was not in order.
He threatened to score twice but ultimately delivered the telling blow seven minutes into extra-time. Odogo had scored in a losing cause against East Bengal, too, and will surely be receiving a lot of attention rest of the season.
EASTERN RAILWAY: Tapan Karmakar, Santanu Dey, Nilanjana Guha, Debdas Sen, Sanjit Datta (Santanu Bit, 46), Saikat Mondal (Soumen Datta, 70), Kuntal Biswas, Biplab Adhikary, Samrat Roy Chowdhury (Raju Mondal, 46), Somnath Pramanick, Henry Odogo.
EVER-READY: Kalyan Chowbey, Dulal Biswas (Rajib Ahmed, 62), Wajid Ali, Surajit Chakraborty, Bimal Sarkar, Jayanta Sen, Shankha Roy Chowdhury, Sujit Ghosh, Crespin Chhetri, Eugene Gray, Surajit Chakraborty (Mohammed Rafique, 53).
Referee: Udayan Haldar.