Five-star East Bengal returns to winning ways against NorthEast United
East Bengal ended their winless streak in the most remarkable manner possible, as they handed NorthEast United a 5-0 defeat in their 7th match of the 2023-24 Indian Super League at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.
Cleiton Silva and Nandhakumar Sekar scored braces, while the first goal of the evening came from Borja Herrera.
Coming from a 1-1 draw against Chennaiyin, East Bengal coach Carles Cuadrat made one change to his team. Jose Antonio Pardo was benched for Herrera, as the Spanish tactician switched back to a 4-5-1 formation overloading the midfield.
On the other hand, NorthEast United coach Juan Pedro Benali made two changes to the team that drew 1-1 against Bengaluru. Ibson Melo came in place of Parthib Gogoi, whereas to keep the overseas count to four, Mohammed Ali Bemmamer was sacrificed for Pragyan Gogoi.
East Bengal had the better start in the match, but the first chance came to the Highlanders as Spanish striker Neston Albiach laid off the ball for winger Jithin MS, who pulled the trigger but lacked precision to open the scoring.
The Torchbearers got their first chance in the 14th minute and managed to make it count, thanks to Herrera’s brilliance. From a quick throw, Vishnu PV played a pass to the former Las Palmas midfielder, who launched an absolute bullet into the back of the net from outside the box.
The lead could have been doubled just six minutes later when Saul Crespo had a chance, but he did not have the finishing boots of his Spanish teammate. However, it did not matter much as the second goal eventually arrived in the 24th minute.
Down the left flank, a flick from Crespo found Mandar Rao Dessai in space and the left-back delivered a sublime cross for Silva. The Brazilian striker then did well to beat his marker and glance a header towards goal, which did get a hand from NorthEast United goalkeeper Mirshad Michu but still ended up in the back of the net.
The Highlanders’ first big chance came in the 27th minute when Romain Philippoteaux delivered a quality cross into the box, but despite finding himself in space, Michel Zabaco could not make the chance count.
While Benali’s team dominated possession for a few minutes after conceding two goals, East Bengal could easily have found a third goal in the first half itself. Silva played a pass for Vishnu who made a darting run down the left flank and found himself one-on-one with Mirshad, but the goalkeeper pulled off a great save to keep his team in the game.
The Highlanders also had a few chances towards the end of the half, with both Albiach and Philippoteaux trying their luck. However, none of the NorthEast United players wore their scoring boots today.
Cuadrat introduced Nandhakumar in the second half and it proved to be a masterstroke. The winger could have scored just a minute after coming on when he was played in by Silva, but his shot was directed straight at Mirshad.
Another chance came in the 52nd minute when Silva played Naorem Mahesh Singh down the right flank, but the winger blasted his shot over the goal. But he soon redeemed himself by playing a crucial role in East Bengal’s third goal.
Finding himself in space, Mahesh launched in a cross for Nandhakumar, who did well to not attempt a first-time shot. Instead, he chose to receive the cross first and then set himself up to carefully guide the ball past an onrushing Mirshad.
The flurry of goals continued as the Torchbearers added a fourth goal in the 66th minute. This time, Crespo played another sublime flick to let Nandhakumar free on the left flank, who put on the afterburners before playing in a delightful cross for Silva. The Madureira academy product then had the easiest task of tucking the ball into an empty net.
Another East Bengal substitute, Pardo could have had a goal to his name in the 72nd minute when he found himself at the receiving end of a cross from Mohamed Rakip, but Mirshad was up to the task this time around.
In the next few minutes, Cuadrat’s team ran rings around the NorthEast United defenders, with Pardo and Silva getting chances, only to fail to capitalize.
In the 81st minute, the Naorem-Nandhakumar combination worked brilliantly for the hosts once again to cap off a five-star performance with as many goals. Naorem played a grounded cross for Nandhakumar Sekar from the right flank before the latter dinked the ball over Mirshad to complete his brace.
East Bengal had a chance for a sixth goal just three minutes later when Nandhakumar nearly had a second assist to his name when he launched a great cross for Mobashir Rahman. However, the substitute’s header was wayward.
Completely against the run of play, the Highlanders got a penalty in the 93rd minute when one of Benali’s substitutes, Phalguni Singh was fouled inside the box. However, things turned for the worse for the away side, as Albiach could not convert from the spot.
With this win, East Bengal is placed seventh in the league standings with 8 points in 7 matches. They will now take on Punjab on Saturday at home while NorthEast United is still hanging on to the sixth place with 9 points in 8 matches and will next host bottom-placed Hyderabad on Sunday.