Tonight’s match saw Bengaluru make a triumphant return to the Kanteerava following two consecutive losses on the road, while East Bengal failed to secure their second consecutive victory in the league. The night at Kanteerava belonged to Bengaluru, and Carles Cuadrat’s return to familiar territories was forgettable as Javi Hernandez’s impressive acrobatic goal earned The Blues their first three points of the season.
Cuadrat opted to include Lalchungnunga back in the lineup after his return from national duty. Harmanjot Khabra maintained his position, but Souvik found himself on the bench. On the other hand, Bengaluru, facing the absence of two suspended players, had to make significant changes. Sunil Chhetri returned to the team, and Harsh Patre and Ryan Williams were included in the starting eleven by Simon Grayson.
Javi Hernandez, who ultimately sealed the victory, was active right from the outset of the match. He collaborated effectively with Sunil Chhetri to create an opportunity for Rohit right in front of the goal. However, Lalchungnunga intervened just in time, averting the danger and preventing his team from falling behind within the first ten minutes. Lalchungnunga’s timely action also thwarted Sunil Chhetri’s attempt to test Prabhsukhan Gill for Bengaluru’s opening goal during a counter-attack.
Nonetheless, it was East Bengal that managed to break the deadlock first. Nandha delivered a superb pass that found Mahesh against Slavko and Rohit. However, Slavko misjudged Mahesh’s run, going across him, allowing Mahesh to outmaneuver Rohit and calmly slot the ball past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. East Bengal appeared to be the more likely side to score the next goal, but Bengaluru surprisingly equalized within five minutes.
Sunil Chhetri was fouled inside the penalty area by Mandar, as per the referee’s judgment, although video replays presented a different perspective. Nonetheless, Chhetri remained composed and confidently converted the penalty past Gill, eliciting a sigh of relief from Simon Grayson.
Nandha Kumar, the architect of the first goal, almost believed he had restored East Bengal’s lead in the 30th minute when Jose Pardo’s free-kick rebounded off Gurpreet’s gloves and landed at his feet. Nandha completed the move, but he was clearly in an offside position, resulting in the goal being disallowed. The first half of the match witnessed significant wing play, with Ryan Williams looking comfortable on the flanks, as did Mahesh and Nandha.
In addition to Williams, Javi was Bengaluru’s primary creative force, continually attempting to craft opportunities for Chhetri and Williams. The first half concluded with Mahesh receiving a yellow card for fouling Sunil Chhetri, who was looking to go on a counter-attack but was impeded by Mahesh.
Once again, it was East Bengal that took the initiative in the second half, seeking to regain their deserved lead. Lalchungnunga had a chance to score East Bengal’s second goal when Mahesh’s free-kick found him inside the box, but his header was thwarted, and the subsequent volley failed to trouble Gurpreet. Mahesh had another opportunity to record an assist when his cross reached Cleiton in the penalty area, but Cleiton couldn’t capitalize on it, and Nandha’s subsequent shot missed the target by a considerable margin.
East Bengal had done a commendable job thus far in keeping Bengaluru at bay; Javi was frequently crowded out, and Bengaluru, who managed only two shots on target, more often than not missed the mark with their long-range efforts.
Shortly before East Bengal found themselves trailing, Carles Cuadrat’s team had a legitimate claim for a penalty when there was a “double handball” by Ryan Williams and Parag Shrivas inside the penalty area as they attempted to clear a corner. Unfortunately, the referee did not spot this incident. East Bengal tried to increase the pressure, with Khabra attempting to exploit spaces behind Bengaluru’s defense, but the lack of mobility from the forwards resulted in his efforts going to waste.
Moments later, Sunil Chhetri headed the ball down to Javi at the other end of the pitch. Javi’s brilliant first touch was followed by an acrobatic bicycle kick that soared past Prabhsukhan Gill, giving Grayson’s team an unexpected lead in the game.
With 15 minutes left to play, Bengaluru adopted a more measured approach, but Cuadrat made proactive substitutions, bringing on Siverio and Souvik in an attempt to force an equalizer. However, East Bengal’s attacking threat began to wane as Bengaluru’s defense held firm. Grayson’s men even had several opportunities to extend their lead. East Bengal had two late free-kicks, and the fans were hoping for another magical moment from Cleiton, similar to the one in Hyderabad.
However, the first one, taken by Pardo, was a powerful effort but sailed past Gurpreet and the crossbar. The second free-kick, much closer to the goal, was taken by Cleiton, but he played it short, and it was eventually cleared by Bengaluru.
The match concluded shortly thereafter, giving Bengaluru their first points of the season. Carles Cuadrat, however, will likely be frustrated and angry, feeling that his team was on the wrong end of several questionable decisions by the referee.
Both East Bengal and Bengaluru FC are set to take on FC Goa in their upcoming Indian Super League matches. East Bengal will have a break of seventeen days before their next game, while Bengaluru will be off the field for twenty-one days. During this time, both teams will have the opportunity to regroup and refine their strategies for the remainder of the season.
Bengaluru’s start to the season hasn’t been particularly strong, with a narrow and lucky win, and Simon Grayson will be aiming for improvement. On the other hand, East Bengal will focus on being more efficient in front of the goal in their upcoming matches, which is fair to say, has haunted them in their first three games.
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