Aizawl: Khalid Jamil’s return to his old stomping ground ended in a stalemate as East Bengal were held to a goalless draw by defending champions Aizawl FC at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium here on Tuesday.
The visitors dominated the proceedings but Aizawl custodian Avilash Paul stood tall, surpassing expectations with saves that kept Aizawl alive in the competition. His dive to parry away Brandon’s curling effort from outside the box left Jamil astonished as much as the double save in the 25th minute.
A Katsumi Yusa free-kick was punched away by the former Pune FC goalkeeper, but only as far as the Japanese who volleyed the rebound back into goal, that was supremely tipped over the bar by Avilash in a flash of moment.
East Bengal needed a win to topple Minerva Punjab into the top position but failure to do so meant they now have 19 points from 10 matches, three behind leaders Minerva who played a match less. Jamil’s desperation for a win in a match he deemed very important was visible when he send in Willis Plaza in search for a late winner, but the Red and Golds disappointed with their form in the final third, which makes it more essential for new signing Dudu’s arrival, before the Kolkata derby.
Jobby Justin who for the second straight time started ahead of the Trinidad and Tobago striker Plaza, much like his senior pro disappointed, squandering some close chances that could have well tilted the match in the visitors’ favour.
It was the home side however who had started better and looked brighter coming close to scoring as early as the fifth minute. Andrei Ionescu’s free-kick surprisingly evaded all including Red and Golds goalkeeper Luis Barreto on it’s way torwards the net, but Lalramchullova was at hand to make a goal-line clearance.
Minutes later Alfred Jaryan’s shot flew just inches wide of the post, while Lalnunfela missed a golden opportunity after Albert found him with a through ball, only for the local boy to shoot wide from the six yards mark.
East Bengal slowly gained momentum growing on confidence and the duo of Katsumi and fomer Aizawl man Al-amnah began to look threatening, with the Japanese winger’s shot even hitting the bar but Avilash at goal stood up to the task every-time he was called upon, persuading the Red and Golds to try and beat him from distance and long range shots.
As many as three former Aizawl boys started for the Kolkata side and when Brandon was introduced at the half-hour mark, East Bengal had three of their four-man attacking line covered by players who were champions last season. But despite all that Aizawl could have certainly walked home with all three points had home-born striker Lalkhawpuimawia headed the ball into an empty net, after Dinliana’s dangerous cross had the entire goal at his mercy.
The home side nonetheless will be happy with the solitary point that kept them close to the top three, with 14 points from eight matches the same as Shillong Lajong on fourth who have played 10.