THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Sunil Chhetri fires Bengaluru FC to the top

Sunil Chhetri in action for Bengaluru FC

Sunil Chhetri in action for Bengaluru FC

Sunil Chhetri was at the double as Bengaluru FC bombed to the top of the I-League table beating Shillong Lajong FC 2-1 at a packed Bangalore Football Stadium on Sunday. Boithang Haokip gave the away team a fighting chance when he swung home a freekick beautifully in the 81st minute but it was a case of being too little too late.

The Blues started with Sean Rooney on the bench but it took just seven minutes for Bengaluru FC to go ahead. Chhetri started a move on the left that involved shrugging away Lajong bodies before play a swift one-two with Robin Singh and slotting past ’keeper Vinay Singh. Chhetri was unlucky not to make it two in the 20th minute when, after some great work by Beikhokhei Beingaichho to the keep the ball in play and cross, the striker’s header came off the post.

Bengaluru FC had a setback in the 24th minute when Keegan Pereira limped off the field with a hamstring injury as Lalrozama Fanai came on to make his debut for the club. Meanwhile, right-back Rino Anto kept threatening with some delightful crosses, the end of which the strikers couldn’t get to.

Shillong looked to Cornell Glenn to deliver and while the Trinidadian striker was impressive, the Bengaluru FC defence had just enough in the bag to stuff him out. The times when he did manage to lose them, Glenn’s shots were straight at ’keeper Pawan Kumar. At the other end, Robin kept getting chances at the goal but would have wished for accuracy.

Bengaluru’s second came in the 34th minute when man-of-the-match Chhetri was said to have been brought down by Robin Gurung in the box. Waving off all the angry protests by the Lajong players, referee Pranjal Banerjee pointed to the spot. The striker calmly tucked home to make it 2-0. John Menyongar was at his best in the midfield, picking out the strikers with regularity and the Chhetri-Robin combine worked hard and well, keeping the Shillong defence on their toes.

The hamstring curse struck Bengaluru for a second time when Robin had to come off for midfielder Darren Caldeira as the Blues looked to secure the game.

Shillong got one back with ten minutes to go when Haokip curled home to beat Pawan. Shillong began sniffing for a draw but Bengaluru shunned any drama at the death, keeping it tight when they needed to. The win extended Bengaluru FC’s unbeaten run at home to seven and took them to 21 points from 11 games.