West Bengal moved atop the Group A standings after a hard fought 1-0 win over defending champions Services at the Bambolim Sports Complex in the 71st National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy 2017 while Chandigarh left it late in stoppage time to score a 2-1 win over Meghalaya at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco.
Services, the defending champions, playing their first match in the tournament started with a strong line up with former Delhi Dynamos midfielder Arjun Tudu and U-21 player RK Jelison leading the attack. Talented midfielder Anoop Pauly was entrusted with the responsibility of marshalling the midfield. On the other hand West Bengal coach, Mridul Bannerjee, who was formerly with Vasco Sports Club, preferred a compact 4-4-2 formation with former Pune FC midfielder Mumtaz Akhtar anchoring the midfield.
After a cautious first twenty minutes, West Bengal took the lead through Moirangthem Basanta Singh. In the 22nd minute, he collected the ball after it rebounded off Services defender N. Herojith Singh and unleashed a brilliant curler from an angle leaving the goalkeeper beaten all ends up. The match then failed to spring to life with midfield possession dominating proceedings and both teams hardly making any real forays into the opponents citadel.
Services came out with much purpose in the second half and started dominating proceedings from the start. First, Mohammed Irshad dribbled past a couple of West Bengal defenders and his powerful pile driver was saved by the Bengal keeper Sankar Roy. Then in the 67th minute a free kick from Jain P. was brilliantly kept out again by Sankar Roy. Just when it seemed Services would pile on the pressure and sneak in an equaliser, their star midfielder Arjun Tudu was given marching orders in the 73rd minute after a push on the opponent defender earned him a second yellow card.
Despite the numerical disadvantage Anoop Pauly single handedly tried to bring Services back on level terms with two individual efforts- a superb volley that was saved by the Bengal keeper and a shot from outside the box that hit the woodwork. Bengal then had a brilliant chance to put the result beyond doubt in the 78th minute but Manvir Singh messed up a sitter with only the Services keeper to beat. Bengal’s numerical advantage then disappeared in the 89th minute when Monotosh Chakladar was sent off for a double booking. However, they held on for the last four minutes of added time to earn their second win of the tournament and move to the top of Group A.
Meanwhile in another match at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco, Chandigarh fought back from a goal deficit to defeat Meghalaya 2-1 and earn their first win of the tournament.
Meghalaya, who lost to Goa in their opening match, took the lead in the 51st minute through Kitboklang Pale. Chandigarh fought their way back through Gagandeep Singh in the 64th minute but just when the match appeared to be heading for a draw, Chandigarh scored the match winner in added time through Sehijpal Singh and condemned Meghalaya to their second straight defeat of the tournament.
(Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)