By Rajarshi Chakrabarty
The crucial away game of East Bengal against Lajong on Monday was anticipated to be a defining encounter in the Kolkata side’s title chase as they desperately needed to win the game to keep their title destiny in their own hands before the final encounter against NEROCA FC.
The ebb and tide of the Hero I League unfolded yet another drama as East Bengal salvaged a 2-2 draw against Lajong on Monday to relinquish the advantage they had at the start of the game as a doubleheader from Dudu Omagbemi on 20′ and 87′ was canceled out by Lajong’s Aiban on 49′ and Samuela on 69′ as both sides settled for a 2-2 draw.
The script for the dramatic encounter was set from the start as East Bengal needed to secure 6 points before the game to win the league without depending on the results of other teams.
Both teams had a positive start to the game as free-flowing football descended at the JLN Stadium under lights as both went in for the early goal to take the control of the game.The battle soon became evident as East Bengal’s midfield engine of Al Amna, Katsumi, Lobo, and Brendan took the compact defensive formation of Lajong led by their talismanic captain Samuel.
East Bengal opted for a 4-4-1-1 as Kromah tucked in behind Dudu Omagbemi as to take the attacking duties along with Kevin Lobo and Mahmoud Al Amna to construct attacking build up from the center of the park.
The game started at a fast tempo and 20-minutes down the clock East Bengal opened the scoring as Dudu Omagbemi sneaked in behind the defenders to head in from a flawless cross down the left channel from Chullova to put East Bengal ahead in the game.
Lajong had their moments in the game as Samuela’s well-connected shot barely managed to glaze the woodwork before going out as East Bengal went into the break with a slender 1-0 lead.
Back in the second half, the home side started to take the attack to the East Bengals half as Odafin’s shot from Koffi’s assist landed wide off the target.
Lajong’s illusive equalizer finally came on 49th minute from a freekick as Saihou Jagne was brought down in the attacking third and Samuela delivered a teasing cross into the box and it took faintest of headed deflection from Aiban to land at the back of the net as Lajong drew level 1-1 on the 49th minute.
As East Bengal kept the pressure on Lajong, chances started to come in a flurry as Brandon Vanlalremdika had two decisive attempts on goal saved by Nidhin Lal’s acrobatic attempts to keep East Bengal at bay.
Lajong on the other end looked to catch East Bengal off-guard on the break as Koffi managed to follow a long ball into the box and managed to hold off three East Bengal defenders around him.
Koffi managed to play the ball to Samuel but young Left-back Mahtab Singh’s unnecessary tackle on Samuela resulted in referee pointing to the spot for a penalty. Samuel himself stepped up to the spot to hammer it past Ubaid to give Lajong the lead on the 69th minute.
As Lajong looked to ease away with all three points, East Bengal struck back in the 87th minute through Dudu Omagbemi’s second header of the game as the striker gleefully headed in from Kromah’s flick to put East Bengal at 2-2.
As East Bengal pushed men forward in search of the winner, Lajong caught East Bengal on the counter as Samuel managed to break free in the 95th minute and laid it off to Abdoulaye Koffi but the Ivorian failed to put the game to bed as the weak left footer went wide.
As the clock ticked by, both teams had to settle for a 2-2 draw which is a huge blow to East Bengal’s title campaign whose fate lies entangled in a myriad of permutations and combinations added with the results from other teams.
The first four teams in the league table are separated by just 2 points going into the final game of the I League on 8th March 2018 as all four contenders would contest on the final match day to seal the fate of the I-League which is expected to go all the way down the wire.