SC East Bengal bagged their second victory of the season over a struggling Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Saturday. This was the Blues fourth consecutive defeat and it couldn’t have been a worse start for interim head coach Naushad Moosa. His counterpart for the day was East Bengal’s assistant head coach Tony Grant instead of Robbie Fowler since the latter had to watch this one from the stands due to accumulation of yellow cards against his name.
Moosa brought in Parag Shrivas at right back and Ajith Kumar at left back as Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Cleiton Silva formed the attack. However, the first big chance of the match fell for Narayan Das quite inadvertently after Bright managed to pull in a couple of defenders towards him and then left the ball for the full back. He sprinted forward with the ball and decided to shoot at goal when a low, driven cross could have been the better option. Bengaluru responded well. Parag then showed some great feet on the edge of the East Bengal penalty area and whipped in a delicious cross. Daniel Fox got a foot in and the ball took a wicked deflection off Cleiton Silva before nestling into the side net. A Parag long throw was then headed just over by Silva when it was easier to score.
The Blues tried to be proactive with the ball in the initial few minutes and made an effort to move it quickly from front to back. However, East Bengal’s five man defence kept thwarting their every move and in the process, gained confidence. The Red and Golds soon found their rhythm and started dominating the midfield battle. The likes of Matti Steinmann and Jacques Maghoma used their physicality to good effect as they kept possession amongst them consistently while the eccentric Enobakhare was absolutely all over the pitch, asking for the ball and dictating the attacking transitions.
He pulled out a couple of brilliant long diagonals for Ankit Mukherjee down the right. One of them almost resulted in a goal but Ankit’s cross was just out of reach for Harmanpreet Singh. The new arrival from ATK Mohun Bagan made amends soon after though, as his dinked ball found Narayan Das on the far side whose cut-back was coolly flicked into the goal by Steinmann (1-0). It was a deft finish that was equal parts arrogant and effortless, and it seemed like it would be another one of days for Bengaluru.
Bengaluru started a lot better in the second half as interim coach Naushad Moosa rang in the changes. Kristian Opseth came on for Udanta Singh while Pratik Chaudhari was brought on for Parag as the Blues stretched the play and both Rahul Bheke and Ajith Kumar found joy on the overlap. Cleiton and Chhetri also began seeing more on the ball coming inside while Dimas started taking up dangerous positions.
Chhetri and Opseth played a brilliant one-two as the captain let fly. But Debjit Majumder in goal was equal to the task. Chhetri again got his shot away after turning the otherwise impressive Ankit Mukherjee inside out but again Debjit stood tall. East Bengal’s first chance of the half then fell for Harmanpreet Singh who blasted his shot over after a driving run from Maghoma.
Debutant Namgyal Bhutia then gifted the ball to Bright, whose shot called upon Gurpreet to make his best save of the day. The Nigerian was again put through on goal by substitute Aaron-Amadi Halloway but the faintest of touch from Gurpreet was again enough to prevent him from getting on the scoresheet. Bengaluru gave it their all but a resolute East Bengal kept defending in numbers till the very last second.
This win puts SC East Bengal within touching distance of 5th placed Jamshedpur FC. They are on 13 points while the Red and Golds go up to 10. With Anthony Pilkington to come back and Halloway also getting into the groove, it seems fans can be hopeful of a strong finish to the season. As far as Bengaluru are concerned, Moosa has a task on his hands after this game with an attack that looks out of ideas and a defence that is shaky at best.