KOLKATA: Fancied Mumbai outfit Mahindra United took a comfortable lead in the league table, beating local favourite Kingfisher East Bengal by a solitary goal in a seventh round match of the 10th National Football League at the Salt Lake stadium here on Tuesday.
The visitor encountered stiff resistance from the home side, which fought on gamely despite the absence of a few key players, before scoring a goal in the second session. Brazilian recruit Jose Barreto found the match-winner in the 67th minute of the match.
This was the fifth successive win for Mahindra United and it has 15 points from six matches, consolidating its position on top of the 10-team premier club competition. The Mumbai outfit, which has played a match less than remaining teams in the top half, has brightened its chances of finishing first in the nine-round first phase.
East Bengal remained in the second spot with 12 points from seven games. Goa's Sporting Clube and city rival Mohammedan Sporting are close behind on 10 points each with a match in hand. Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar, which were involved in a 1-1 draw at Margao on Sunday, have five points each.
Going on the defensive
Missing three of its regulars striker Baichung Bhutia through injury, Cameroon midfielder Endem through suspension with two bookings and Nigerian forward Mike Okoro East Bengal did not risk attacking its formidable opponent.
The home side's Belgian coach Philippe de Ridder decided to utilise the best available talent from the bench and also adopted a defensive strategy. Mahindra, coached by Derrick Pereira, went on the attack right from the start but a goal proved elusive as the host packed its defence strongly. The first session was barren except for a few wasted opportunities from Mahindra.
The second half saw East Bengal launch counterattacks and off one such attempt in the 66th minute, attacking winger Syed Rahim Nabi had a good opportunity to score with only the Mahindra goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury to beat. However, Rahim shot directly into Chowdhury's body and off the rebound sent the ball flying over the crosspiece.
A minute later, Barreto made the most of a through pass from substitute Surojit Bose to slam home the winner.