Kolkata: Brandon Vanlalrmdika’s 89th minute goal kept East Bengal’s hopes alive helping them snatch a 2-2 draw against leaders Minerva Punjab at the Barasat Stadium on Tuesday.
It however kept the Chandigarh based club undefeated in Kolkata this I-League, which means they stay at the top, six points clear of East Bengal, who stand on 20 points after 12 games. Minerva has played a match less.
But the 2-2 draw seemed far from being a result when Minerva went ahead 2-0 after 33 minutes and East Bengal didn’t look a side capable of pulling out both the goals back.
That a lot has happened at the Kolkata club ever since that 2-0 derby defeat to Mohun Bagan nine days ago stood as a proof, when Jamil introduced seven changes to the team that started in the derby. Minerva’s alterations were two.
Fullbacks Mehtab Singh and Deepak Kumar who last started in December 3, made a return and so did Salam Ranjan Singh at the back. Goalkeeper Ubaid CK who was making his debut started well, parrying away a Sukhdev Singh shot in the 20th minute, but could do little when Salam failed to clear away the loose ball and Sukhdev had all the time for another attempt.
13 minutes later, young Chencho Gyeltshen made it 2-0 with a solo effort after Bazie Armand and Eduardo Ferreira comically clashed with each other failing to block Gagandeep Bali’s square pass for the Bhutanese winger, while centre-back Salam was nowhere near the ball.
Staring at an open chance the 21 year-old placed it past the debutant Ubaid, giving him a rare achievement of scoring against both the Kolkata giants in his first season.
East Bengal though had most of the possession but lacked intensity in attack, which forced Jamil to replace Mehtab Singh for the former Mohun Bagan player Ansumana Kromah in the 42nd minute.
The Liberian after change of sides had an instant impact and nearly earned an assist after he laid out an wonderful ball for Dudu Omagbemi. But with only the goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong to beat, the experienced campaigner failed to make a connection.
Towards the end of first-half East Bengal claimed for a penalty after Guy Eric Dano brought down Katsumi Yusa but though the referee rebuffed the decision then, the Red and Golds had one minutes into the second half. This time Laldanmawia was brought down and referee Tejas Nagvenkar didn’t hesitate.
The penalty was in the 50th minute and had the entire stadium hoping for a comeback. But Katsumi missed as Chemjong guessed it right and it soon gave away to jeers of “Jamil go back” as fans were vocal and loud bashing the entire team.
Their restlessness was calmed though nine minutes later after Katsumi found Jobby Justin from a corner and the Kerala born striker scored from a thumping header.
Minerva coach Khogen Singh soon decided to shut shop minutes after the goal withdrawing Gyeltshen amidst a round of applause for Ambekar, even as Jamil threw in Brandon Vanlalremdika in the attack.
It was one move that paid off and had the Japanese Yusa once again in the the thick of things. His back pass from a Danmawia cross found the substitue, who stromed it into the bottom left.
Minutes later Danmawia struck the upright from a Yusa free-kick but East Bengal had to stay content with a solitary point and will rue the former Bagan captain’s fluffed penalty, that could have fetched all three.
The title however still remains Minerva’s to lose with East Bengal only edging closer to the second spot. They face Indian Arrows at home next before playing the ‘Warriors’ again in an away fixture.