East Bengal and NorthEast United share spoils in a six-goal thriller

Cleiton Silva scored a brace for East Bengal

Two struggling teams of the 2022-23 Indian Super League season, East Bengal and NorthEast United played out a six-goal thriller as they settled for a 3-3 draw in Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium. 

A Cleiton Silva brace and a Jake Jervis wonder strike comprised the Torchbearers’ three goals, while for the Highlanders, Parthib Gogoi, Jithis MS, and Imran Khan were on target to salvage a rare point.

East Bengal head coach Stephen Constantine made three changes to his starting XI that won 1-0 against Kerala Blasters. Mohamad Rakip, Lalchungnunga and Souvik Chakrabarti were handed starts at the expense of Ankit Mukherjee, Sarthak Golui and the suspended Mobashir Rahman.

On the other hand, NorthEast United head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese made two changes to his team after a 0-2 defeat against Jamshedpur. Tondonba Singh and Jithin replaced Gurjinder Kumar and Mohamed Irshad.

The visitors had the better start and should have taken the lead as early as the 4th minute. After receiving a pass from Mashoor Shereef, Parthib made a darting run down the right flank before placing a cross on a plate for Kule Mbombo, but the Congolese striker skied his shot from a handshaking distance.

That miss proved to be costly, as the hosts opened the deadlock only six minutes later. The Torchbearers’ left-back, Jerry Lalrinzuala played a perfect cross for Cleiton, who guided his header calmly past the diving Highlanders’ custodian, Arindam Bhattacharja.

East Bengal then had the chance to double their advantage in the 23rd minute when Charalampos Kyriakou set Naorem Mahesh Singh with a pass, and the winger did well to beat his marker and launch a cross. However, Arindam was alert this time around.

Once again, missed chances came back to haunt the team as NorthEast United scored the equalizer in the 30th minute. Tondonba made a pacey run down the left flank before launching a cross, which was met with a header by one of Constantine’s defenders. However, the rebound fell for Parthib, who struck a sensational shot to make the scoreline 1-1.

One goal opened the floodgates for the Highlanders as they took the lead just two minutes later. A fantastic counter-attack saw Romain Phillipoteaux playing a defense-splitting through ball for Jithin, and while the latter had the option of finding a teammate with a pass, he went for goal and got the better of East Bengal’s goal-keeper, Kamaljit Singh.

In the 45th minute, Annese’s team had the chance of doubling their advantage. Tondonba was instrumental again as he delivered a dangerous corner which found the head of Mashoor, but he could not guide his attempt on target.

Like at the start of the game, NorthEast United were made to pay for their missed chance again as East Bengal equalised just before half-time. A long throw by Rakip found Sumeet Passi inside the box, who laid his header into a congested area. The Torchbearers’ new signing, Jervis was marked by two defenders but he still somehow managed to find the back of the net, thanks to a wonderful overhead kick.

The Highlanders had a better start to the second half and could have easily scored in the 51st minute. Philippoteaux tried to deliver a cross, and while his attempt was blocked, the rebound fell kindly for Jithin. However, having scored previously, the winger could not add to his tally.

The same pattern followed in the second half as well, as Annese’s men were made to pay for the missed chance by East Bengal. In the 62nd minute, the hosts were awarded a penalty and Cleiton was thrown into the ground by Alex Saji. The Brazilian made no mistake from the penalty spot to make the scoreline 3-2.

The next few minutes saw the Highlanders throwing the kitchen sink at Constantine’s men, but it was not before the 84th minute that they had their next big chance. Annese’s substitutions almost paid off as Gani Nigam found Laldanmawia Ralte with a cross, and though the former East Bengal player kept his shot on target, Kamaljit came up with a fantastic save to safeguard his team’s lead.

However, that miss did not matter much as the Highlanders eventually scored the equalizer in the next minute. Another former East Bengal, Hira Mondal was involved this time around as it was his shot that started the entire sequence.

While the East Bengal defense blocked the left-back’s attempt, the rebound fell for Nigam. The 24-year-old winger made a run down the right flank before drilling a cross for Imran, who made no mistake in finding the back of the net.

But that was not the last action of the game, as both teams had a chance of taking all three points home. It was East Bengal’s turn first as Jordan O’Doherty pulled the trigger from outside the box, but Arindam came up with a spectacular save.

In additional time, NorthEast United had a golden opportunity when Jithin’s cross into the box caught the entire Torchbearers’ defense napping, as Ralte was completely unmarked. However, the Mizo attacker’s head was not on target.

With this draw, East Bengal remains in the ninth position with 16 points from 17 matches. They will now take on Chennaiyin on Sunday while NorthEast United, who remains last with 5 points from 18 games, will enjoy a break before taking on Odisha next Friday.