KOLKATA: East Bengal defeated ten men Gokulam Kerala FC 1-0 to go top of the 2017/18 I-League table at the Yuvabharati Krirangan on Wednesday.
A 44th-minute goal scored by Mohammed Rafique was enough to salvage all three points for the Kolkata giants to leapfrog Minerva Punjab FC at the table summit.
Both sides made the solitary change after their away wins respectively. Mohammed Rafique was brought in for Lalramchullova by Khalid Jamil while Stephane Kamo Bayi was passed fit for Gokulam Kerala FC as Usman Ashik was left out of the eleven.
The Calicut-based side had an early setback as their midfield general Khaled Alsaleh had to be taken off in the tenth minute owing to an injury. However, it was the hosts who had the first sniff on goal.
Katsumi Yusa’s flag kick in the fourteenth minute was punched out by goalkeeper Bilal Khan but Mohammed Rafique’s audacious chip almost went inside the net but the custodian did well to leap back and parry the ball out.
Three minutes later, substitute Francis Ambane launched an audacious freekick from range beating Luis Barreto but he only hit the crossbar.
Stephane Kamo Bayi had a chance from the edge of the box as he rounded up Eduardo Ferreira but his dangerous shot was off target.
While Francis Ambane and Arjun Jayaraj marshalled the Gokulam troops in midfield, Jamil’s side had little opportunities. The Cameroonian Ambane even hit the side-netting from a freekick in the 38th minute.
However, it was the Red and Golds who broke the deadlock a minute away from the halftime whistle. Santu Singh conceded a corner kick that Mahmoud Al Amna sent in. Vicky Meitei cleared it but Rafique who was just outside the box chested it down and hit home from the bounce, giving Jamil some solace heading into the halftime break.
Kamo Bayi had to be brought off after the break for an injury but Rohit Mirza’s off-the-ball rash challenge on Katsumi Yusa rendered the visitors a man down in the 54th minute. The Red and Golds could not take advantage of the extra man as they seldom put the Gokulam defence in danger.
However, Charles De Souza came close near the hour mark and Willis Plaza once again was left without any support. Emmanuel Chigozie was shown a yellow card for handling the ball albeit outside the box.
The tempo slowed down and East Bengal held onto the slightest of leads to surge to the top of the table as they now pay a visit to NEROCA FC on 30th January. Bino George’s side remained at the eighth spot and face Aizawl FC at home on New Year’s Eve.