Bengaluru registers first win of the season on Chhetri’s return
The intensified footballing action remained steady at 1-1 till half-time with the goal-scoring strikes of Naorem Mahesh and Sunil Chhetri. Then a 71st-minute bicycle kick from the Spaniard Javi Hernandez turned the tables and claimed all three points for the Blues.
Simon Grayson was forced to make three changes in his starting XI as two of his key starters Suresh Wangjam and Roshan Naorem were suspended after being red-carded in the same match against Mohun Bagan SG while Aleksandar Jovanovic was benched by the head coach.
Alongside Harsh Pate and Ryan Williams, the legendary striker Sunil Chhetri made his first start of the ISL season after serving his nation at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
East Bengal aimed to continue their triumphant momentum as the gaffer Carles Cuadrat made only a single change in the lineup which recently outclassed Hyderabad. After returning from national duties, Lalchungnunga directly barged into the Torchbearers’ central defense as the veteran Harmanjot Khabra was shifted back to his primary position in defensive midfield with Souvik Chakrabarti dropping to the bench.
The action of the initial minutes saw the Kolkata-based outfit showcasing their midfield fluidity and knitting forward runs. The Blues’ first menacing move came in the fifth minute when the keeper Prabhsukhan Gill panicked against a pacy charge of Chhetri but the Torchbearers somehow managed to daunt the early threat.
However, it was the Red and Gold Brigade that got the maiden breakthrough at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the 15th minute. After receiving a terrific through ball from Nandhakumar Sekar, it just took two touches for Naorem Mahesh Singh to outwit the charging defenders Slavko Damjanovic and Jessel Carneiro before the 24-year-old winger showcased his individual brilliance by finding the back of the net to make it 1-0.
The West Block Blues who were frozen in silence after conceding the opening goal, erupted in celebrations just a few minutes later. Mandar Rao Desai’s challenge on Sunil Chhetri inside his own box was penalized by the referee for a spot-kick which opened the gates of comeback for the Blues.
The East Bengal Brigade along with team management got into a heated argument with Pranjal Banerjee as the Bengaluru striker was seen diving in action-replay but the referee stood by his decision. Skipper Chhetri himself stepped up to take the penalty and made no mistake in converting it into the equalizing goal through his trademark short run-up.
Then, Bengaluru staged a piercing counter-attacking move in the first minute of the four-minute stoppage time as the visitors had no options to stop it other than bringing down the invader Chhetri.
Rohit Kumar who had additional responsibilities in the absence of Wangjam had a miserable first half after being reprimanded for his fouls on multiple occasions and also committed many passing errors.
When both teams returned to the battlefield after a half-time break, the tussle to dominate the pitch continued as both combatants were standing toe-to-toe with each other. Nandhakumar and Khabra got golden opportunities to put the Red and Golds ahead in the game but none of them managed to find the back of the net.
The away side started losing their defensive compactness to continuous attacking moves of the opposition which eventually resulted in a calamity for the visitors. Harmanjot’s incomplete clearance after a cross from Rohit Danu gave room for the Spanish magician Javi Hernandez to use his magic spell in front of the home crowd. The 35-year-old attacking midfielder used his first touch to control the ball and then successfully attempted a bicycle kick to score the winning goal.
Grayson shifted his gears in the final phase of the game pushing back to a defensive approach and commanded his players to protect the lead. The Torchbearers kept their search for a late equalizer on until the last left second of the clock but ultimately surrendered when the referee blew the full-time whistle on the final scoreline of 2-1.
The Red and Golds put up a strong contention for the away points but a couple of missed chances and Javi’s stunning strike took them far away from the winning equation. Meanwhile, the Karnataka-based club’s spirit seems to be sky-high ever since the arrival of Sunil Chhetri who stabilizes the team combination for Grayson.
Interestingly, both of these combatant sides will face the same opposition from Goa in their upcoming league fixture. East Bengal will square off the Gaurs on the 21st of October while Bengaluru has an opportunity to turn this solitary victory into a triumphant run when they host Goa on 25th October.