KOLKATA: Laldanmawia Ralte was the unlikely hero as East Bengal wrapped up their 39th title after twice coming from behind to draw 2-2 with Mohun Bagan in a tense Calcutta Football League encounter on Sunday at Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri.
Azharuddin Mallick’s 3rd minute strike had Mohun Bagan in front, but Laldanmawia Ralte scored with a left footer just before half time to level matters.
However, soon after restart Ansumana Kromah converted from the spot to restore Mohun Bagan’s lead, but Mahmoud Al Amna intervened with a penalty of his own, that was awarded for Raynier Fernandes’ challenge on Laldanmawia.
The draw meant East Bengal clinched their 8th successive title courtesy a better goal difference despite finishing level on 23 points with Mohun Bagan.
This is the first time since 1995 when a team crowned champions on goal difference.
East Bengal were nervy from the start and fell behind in the 3rd minute when Azharuddin’s attempted shot on goal took a deflection of Carlyle Mitchell and ended up in the back of the net.
Having conceded early on, East Bengal began attacking with intensity through Willis Plaza, Al Amna and Laldanmawia but Mohun Bagan managed to hold on.
Al Amna’s creativity in the middle of the park gave East Bengal a lot going forward. The skillful midfielder almost created the equalizer after doing well to beat his marker and lay a ball for Plaza who failed to direct his effort from a good position in the 13th minute.
Nonetheless, Mohun Bagan almost made it two in the 23rd minute when Nikhil Kadam’s pass was brilliantly flicked on by Kromah, but Bayi Kamo’s tame finish was deflected wide by Gurwinder Singh’s block as a key chance went begging.
East Bengal, on the other hand, grew in confidence and dominated possession firing from every angle in search of the equalizer.
The patience and perseverance paid off and in the 44th minute East Bengal secured an equalizer via Laldanmawia’s close-range shot from Lalramchullova’s pass, which saw both teams going into the breather with one-goal-a-piece.
Mohun Bagan started like a house on fire in the second half and created the first clear opportunity seconds after the restart. This was the first warning which East Bengal failed to take note of as Kromah put Mohun Bagan back in front three minutes into the half when he slotted home a penalty after Mitchell had brought down Kamo inside the penalty box.
Despite the early setback, East Bengal kept on pressing and almost camped in the Mohun Bagan’s half in search of the equalizer.
The pressure paid off as East Bengal finally managed to draw level in the 65th minute. Laldanmawia surged through on goal and went down under pressure from Raynier, with referee Ranjit Bakshi pointing to the spot despite furious Mohun Bagan protests.
Al Amna then stepped up and calmly sent Mohun Bagan keeper Shilton Paul the wrong way to slot home the equalizer.
Mohun Bagan regained their composure and started to launch a wave of attacks but with the game turning physical, the Mariners found it hard to penetrate.
The match took a dramatic twist in the 82nd minute when Kinshuk Debnath was sent off leaving Mohun Bagan with 10-men on the pitch, however, the advantage was negated as East Bengal midfielder Surabuddin Mallick was given his marching orders four minutes later.
Mohun Bagan then battled hard towards the end looking for a winner, but East Bengal managed to hold on defending deep to crown champions.