East Bengal crushes Bengaluru’s playoff chances with a 2-1 win

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East Bengal is now in a good position to qualify for the playoffs

In the fifth fixture of Matchday 21 of the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, East Bengal defeated Bengaluru by a 2-1 margin at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan. Saul Crespo and Cleiton Silva were on the scoresheet for the Torchbearers, while Sunil Chhetri was the lone scorer for the Blues.

Though his team won the last match against Kerala Blasters 4-2, East Bengal head coach Carles Cuadrat made two changes to his team. Harmanjot Singh Khabra was preferred as a central defender ahead of Aleksandar Pantic allowing Victor Vazquez to replace Sayan Banerjee.

On the other hand, Bengaluru head coach Gerard Zaragoza also made two changes to his starting XI after a 0-0 draw against Odisha. Aleksandar Jovanovic and Suresh Singh Wangjam were handed starts at the expense of the suspended Chinglensana Singh and Ryan Williams respectively.

The match had a fairly slow start as neither team wanted to be ultra-aggressive in an important encounter for both sides, although Bengaluru nearly carved East Bengal open in the 11th minute. 

Oliver Drost found Lalremtluanga Fanai inside the box with a brilliant lob and the midfielder then passed it onto Sivasakthi Narayanan’s feet but the winger had his attempt saved by Prabhsukhan Singh Gill.

East Bengal did not make any inroads in the initial exchanges of the match but they were given a golden opportunity in the 18th minute when Fanai brought down Naorem Mahesh Singh inside the box. From the spot, Crespo made no mistake in giving his team the lead.

The lead could easily have been doubled just 11 minutes later when Mahesh played a delightful ball into the box from the left flank. Silva had positioned himself between the two central defenders to expertly tuck the ball home but he somehow got his feet tangled and failed to generate any proper connection on the shot.

Bengaluru had a chance to equalize in the first half when a free-kick from Keziah Veendorp in the 38th minute found Shankar Sampangiraj inside the box but the experienced player could not keep his header on target.

Zaragoza introduced his captain Chhetri in the second half which changed the complexion of the game. The striker took just four minutes to get the ball into the back of the net, but the goal was rightfully chalked off for off-side.

Merely 10 minutes after that incident, he managed to earn a penalty for Bengaluru. Darting down the left wing, Chhetri attempted to launch a cross into the middle of the box but Khabra cleared the danger using his arm in the process. Taking the responsibility of the penalty on his shoulders, the veteran made the scoreline 1-1 despite Gill jumping the right way.

Captain Cleiton Silva was once again on the scoresheet for East Bengal

That goal served as a wake-up call for East Bengal, who once again started to attack after losing their lead to callousness. In the 73rd minute, Nishu Kumar delivered an exquisite cross into the box using his weaker right foot. Sampangiraj could not deal with it while coming from behind, Silva headed the ball into an empty net to restore East Bengal’s upper hand in the match.

However, Bengaluru had some glorious chances of making a comeback in the game. In the 85th minute, Nikhil Poojary played a sublime through ball for Monirul Molla down the right flank, who had acres of space in front of him. 

Though both substitutes Slavko Damjanovic and Chhetri were inside the box and available for a cut-back, Molla went for the goal himself as the bull struck Gill and the woodwork before going out. Damjanovic was visibly fuming at the youngster for not rolling the ball into his feet.

Over the next few minutes, Bengaluru tried to throw the kitchen sink at the home team. Chhetri, Molla, and Javi Hernandez all had attempts, but the East Bengal backline went into stealth mode, clearing every danger that they sensed. A cross from Suresh in the 91st minute found Chhetri, but his header was directed straight at Gill.

Totally against the run of play, the Torchbearers nearly scored their third goal in the 96th minute. From a counter-attack, two substitutes Felicio Brown Forbes and Aman CK combined beautifully as the Costa Rican striker found the Indian youngster with a delightful through ball. 

Aman even went round Gurpreet and had an entire goal gaping, but just when he was about to shoot, he lost his footing. Though he did get back up again and struck a shot, Gurpreet was guarding his goal and managed to make a good save.

With this win, East Bengal boosted their chances of qualifying for the playoffs as they jumped to sixth place with 24 points from 21 matches. In their last league stage match, the Torchbearers will face Punjab on Wednesday.On the other hand, Bengaluru is already out of contention and is placed 9th with 22 points in 21 matches. Their league season will come to an end on Thursday when they will host Mohun Bagan Super Giant.