Punjab daunts East Bengal for a goalless draw
Matchday 9 of the Indian Super League witnessed the Northern Shers inching closer to a three-point prowess but once again settled down for a draw. The Red and Gold Brigade which recently delivered a five-star performance could not score a single goal against an 11th-placed Punjab side and shared points for the third time in the 2023-24 league season.
The visiting gaffer came up with three changes in his lineup from the previous game and plied his trade back on the Nepalese guardian Kiran Limbu. Krishnananda Singh replaced Prasanth K on the wings while another Manipuri assailant Tekcham Abhishek Singh was handed his debut ISL start for the Orangers with Madih Talal and Ravi Kumar also relegated to the bench.
Meanwhile, Carles Cuadrat graced the VYBK Arena with a couple of changes in the starting XI strengthening the domestic core. Nandhakumar Sekar deservingly earned a start after delivering a stellar substitute performance against NorthEast United replacing Vishnu Puthiya and injured Harmanjot Khabra was replaced by Nishu Kumar in the defensive line.
East Bengal dominated the action of the initial minutes but still could not make any big goal-scoring threat in the first 30 minutes owing to vigilant defensive play by the visitors.
Punjab gradually got the game control as the match proceeded towards the end of the first half and came very close to breaking the deadlock in the 36th minute. Juan Mera attempted a curling strike on the right corner of the goalpost and even managed to outsmart Prabhsukhan Singh Gill but his shot hurled back from the woodwork.
In the very next minute, the Kolkata-based outfit knitted a progressive move which resulted in their players making a loud appeal for a possible penalty. However, the referee not only turned down the appeal but also penalized Borja with a yellow card for his simulated act of diving to attract the penalty kick.
Mera’s goal-scoring chance remained the only targeted shot of the first-half action as both of the combatants returned back to the dressing rooms on a 0-0 scoreline. Mera was keen on getting a breakthrough against his former side as he went on to set up a big chance through his corner from the right flank but Krishnananda’s headed effort on the receiving end couldn’t give justice to the move.
When the clock completed 60 minutes, both of the managers urged to make a few formation changes and made multiple changes in the hope of breakthroughs. Staikos Vergetis cleared his intentions by making attacking changes in the form of Talal and Daniel Lalhampuia in place of Krishnananda and skipper Luka Majcen. The home team seemed even more eager to use the substitution cards as they opted for a triple-change and brought the likes of Puthiya, Mohamad Rakip, and Jose Pardo onto the pitch.
Cuadrat used the final arrow from the bow in the 80th minute when he replaced Saul Crespo with Javier Siverio and tasked the Spanish forward to quest for the winning goal in the final moments.
In the last minute of normal time, Puthiya entered the 18-yard box bringing the home crowd on their toes after dribbling three opposition defenders but it also resulted in disappointment unfortunately as the scoreline remained 0-0 when the final whistle was blown by the referee.
The biggest drawback for the Torchbearers turned out to be their offense department which managed to put only a single shot on target throughout the play. On the other hand, the Punjab attack also failed to capitalize on the opportunities but the Greek gaffer Vergetis seemed very satisfied with the performance and also expressed his joy of earning a point for three straight fixtures.
This draw outcome helps East Bengal overtake the Highlanders and barge into the Top 6 and East Bengal now has a tougher task to face Mumbai City in Mumbai after two consecutive home games.
Meanwhile, the Orange Shers who are still 11th in the league standings will be flying back to North as they have a scheduled home fixture with Kerala Blasters at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.