East Bengal held off a late resurgence from Pune FC before preserving a 1-0 lead for its second successive win in the I-league, here at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday. Playing its first home match of the tournament, East Bengal was greatly helped by its custodian Abhijit Mondal, whose heroics under the bar thwarted a great fight-back from the Pune outfit in the second half.
East Bengal rode a brief spell of brilliance in the first half, where it gained the goal, and spent the rest of the action mostly tending to its own defence. Nigerian striker Edeh Chidi got the decisive goal midway through the first half to give East Bengal the full points ahead of its next round meeting with holder and current league leader Dempo SC. After three rounds East Bengal had seven points, while Pune remained on six.
While East Bengal performed in patches of brilliance, Pune FC showed an overall good organisation. The visitor drew arrears in the striking zone that spoiled its efforts to find the equaliser. Pune FC could well have changed the scenario had its attacking midfielder Izumi Arata been more precise in keeping the ball on target from close in the his eighth minute effort.
It was the time Pune FC had kept the host under pressure with regular incursions.
East Bengal turned the tide midway through the first half when its Nigerian midfielder Orji Penn set up striker Manandeep Singh with a neat back-centre just to see the latter botch it up with an improper connection. The next East Bengal attack in the 28th minute fetched the break.
Giving a good measure of his goal poaching ability, Chidi made the most of the gifted assistance that came from Srikanth Ramu. The Pune FC defender mistimed a shot that rebounded off a colleague to reach the East Bengal striker. Chidi collected the ball at the left end of the Pune FC box and followed it up with a sharp inside-out punch that beat the opposition custodian Shahinlal Meloly all ends up.
Pune FC stung back with a series of raids in the second half, but the equaliser failed to materialise as the experienced Abhijit’s reflexes spoiled three spectacular attempts from the India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua successively in the 52nd, 72nd and 76th minutes.
The intense involvement saw Abhijit injuring his arm and was replaced in the 78 minute by Gurpreet Sandhu.
The result: East Bengal 1 (Edeh Chidi 28th) bt Pune FC 0.