Shillong, Mar 5: East Bengal’s hopes of an I-League title were partially hampered at the JN Stadium here on Monday in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Shillong Lajong FC.
The breakthrough arrived in the 20th minute when Mahmoud Al-Amna passed the ball to Lalramchullova, who put the ball into the box from the left flank. Although Omegbemi Dudu took credit for the goal, from the stands it was unclear whether he got a touch on the ball, but his presence in front of the goalmouth sufficiently distracted SLFC goalkeeper Nidhin Lal and the ball eased over the line.
Lajong levelled proceedings early into the second half when a foul on Abdoulaye Koffi on the left flank saw Samuel Lalmuanpuia put in a supreme free-kick that looked like it clipped the head of Aiban Dohling before beating EB goalie Ubaid CK (49′). A foul in the box then yielded a penalty for Lajong, while captain Lalmuanpuia converted by aiming the ball low past Ubaid (69′).
Ansumana Kromah was the provider of EB’s equaliser as he fed the ball to Dudu, who dinked it into the net from close range in the 87th minute.
In an attacking move, the hosts made just a single change from their victory over Aizawl FC last month, this time choosing to start with forward Koffi, who was a goal-scoring substitute in the last game.
It was the Kolkata outfit that created more opportunities at the start, however, with Lajong even looking a little uncomfortable on their home turf.
There were plenty of travelling fans who came to support East Bengal and their were vociferous in their support. There was even an incident between the opposing fans in the stands next to the media box, but this was quickly brought under control by police.
Apart from that first half goal and the second he could do little about, man-of-the-match Lal had a fantastic outing under the bar, being called on to make vital saves throughout the game, twice denying Brandon Vanlalremdika in the second half. Oh Juho was also tremendously active in defence, energetically clearing the ball on numerous occasions.
East Bengal dangerman Kromah had a nice little battle with SLFC’s defenders in the 15th minute and he held onto the ball with plenty of neat swerves and pulled the trigger, but his shot was off target.
The opening goal came five minutes later and Kromah was amidst the action in the 25th but his right-footer was blocked by Lal, who would go on to deny Liberian again two minutes later by tipping his shot over the crossbar.
The hosts then started to create opportunities of their own, first with a Saihou Jagne shot blocked by the visiting defenders before Redeem Tlang and Lalmuanpuia displayed a nice one-two effort only to see Tlang’s effort go wide.
Lalmuanpuia would himself go on to miss the target towards the end of the first half.
They might have been a goal down, but SLFC signalled their intentions of fighting back loud and clear at the start of the second half when, in less than a minute after the restart, Koffi played the ball to Daniel Odafin, who unleashed a screamer just wide of the post.
The equaliser soon followed and EB’s defence started to show signs of wilting and with the penalty in the bag Lajong looked eagerly towards the final whistle, but their hopes were squelched in the last few minutes with Dudu’s second goal.
The draw means that Lajong stay in sixth place, while East Bengal remain in fourth.