A second half hat-trick from Nigerian striker Ranti Martins helped East Bengal defeat Aizawl FC 3-2 at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Aizawl on Saturday. After leading 2-0, the home side capitulated in the second half after defender Chigozie received a straight red card for a foul in the box.
East Bengal had registered a convincing 2-0 win when they last met Aizawl back in February. However, two defeats on the trot against bottom-placed DSK Shivajians and Salgaocar had almost ended the Red and Gold brigade's hopes of a title challenge this season. With defending champions Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru tied at the top of the table with 22 points, East Bengal travelled to Aizawl hoping for three points to cut the lead at the top to just two points. Biswajit Bhattacharya brought in Barreto, Robert, Khabra and Joaquim Abranches into the XI in place of Rehenesh, Rahul Bheke, Saumik Dey and Do Dong-Hyun.
On the other hand, Aizawl FC
The home side started the match in a good rhythm with Brandon Vanlalremdika, Joel Sunday and Alfred Jaryan troubling the East Bengal defence in the initial minutes. The early pressure paid dividends as Aizawl scored the opening goal of the game in the 19th minute after a cross from Japanese midfielder Yuta Kinowaki found Alfred Jaryan in the box. The Liberian striker teed it up for Brandon, and the young Mizo winger made no mistake as the ball crashed into the net.
Trailing 1-0, East Bengal suffered another blow in the 23rd minute after an injury curtailed veteran midfielder Mehtab Hossain’s time in the game. Mehtab was replaced by Cavin Lobo as the Red and Gold Brigade pushed forward in search of the equaliser, but the home side’s defence kept it tight at the back denying Ranti Martins any sniff at a goal. The arrival of Cavin Lobo added more mettle to the East Bengal attack, but it was the home side that ended the half in ascendancy leading in terms of goals, shots on target and ball possession.
With Aizawl dominating the match even after the break, East Bengal Biswajit Bhattacharya brought on Bikash Jairu in place of
However, within minutes, East Bengal reduced the margin back to one after defender Emmanuel Chigozie pushed Ranti Martins inside the box. Chigozie received a straight red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity and Ranti Martins converted from the spot to pull one back for the Red and Gold Brigade.
With the home side down to ten men, East Bengal controlled the game in the middle of the park and threw the kitchen sink at the Aizawl defence looking for the equaliser. And it finally arrived for the away side in the 85th minute with Ranti Martins once again the scorer. Bikash Jairu swung in a beautiful cross from the left, and the Nigerian striker jumped above the Aizawl defenders to head the ball into the back of the net. Ranti Martins completed his hat-trick and East Bengal’s win two minutes from time with a simple tap-in from close range to silence the crowd at the Rajiv Gandhi stadium. In the dying minutes of the game, Aizawl went down to nine men after Lalram Chullova received a second yellow card for fouling Ranti Martins.
With the win, East Bengal
Salgaocar vs Shillong Lajong
In the other match of the day, Salgaocar defeated Shillong Lajong 1-0 at the at the Tilak Maidan Stadium in Goa on Saturday. Gilbert Olivera scored the only goal of the game in the 31st minute to gift the hosts three valuable points to climb to sixth