East Bengal defeated debutants Real Kashmir FC 2-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Thursday as they kept their hopes of winning their maiden I-League title alive.
Enrique Esqueda was adjudged the Hero of the Match, after he put the Red and Golds ahead early in the first half, before setting up his Spanish teammate Jamie Santos Colado for the second, as the Kolkata giants ran away with a win.
This result takes East Bengal to 36 points from 18 games, just four behind league leaders Chennai City FC, who have played the same number of matches. As it currently stands, East Bengal need to win their remaining two matches and hope that Chennai City FC do not pick up more than a point from their last two games.
For Chennai City FC, however, the equation is simple. A point each from their last two games would see them lift the title at the end of the season by virtue of a better head-to-head record against the side from Kolkata.
The Red and Golds got off to a swift start, keeping large bouts of possession in the opening exchanges. Their efforts paid dividends in the 20th minute itself, when Danmawia curled in a cross at the Kashmir far post from a Lalram Chullova through ball, for Mexican forward Enrique Esqueda to nod home.
Real Kashmir FC could not find their footing in the game at this stage and resorted to route-one football hoping that their Scottish forward Mason Robertson would hold up the ball and distribute it to the rest.
However, they soon received a massive blow to their endeavours, when Kofi Tetteh was sent off for dissent after he was already shown a yellow card for a foul on East Bengal defender Johnny Acosta.
That gave East Bengal the momentum for the rest of the half, and they managed to double their lead minutes before the referee blew his whistle for the half-time breather.
East Bengal’s Spanish playmaker Jamie Santos Colado played Esqueda through inside the Kashmir area before the latter crossed it back to the Spaniard, who volleyed it home with great aplomb.
Despite being down to 10 men, Real Kashmir FC came out with a lot of initiative in the second half. However, it was East Bengal, who had the clearer chance on the hour mark, when Danmawia made a decoy run off a Colado ball, to find himself one-on-one with Real Kashmir keeper Bilal Khan. However, the Danmawia’s shot was parried away by the custodian.
Minutes later, the Snow Leopards got the perfect chance to get back in the game when East Bengal goalkeeper Rakshit Daggar brought Bazzie Armand down inside his own area. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot, and Aaron Katebe made no mistake as he slotted it home from the spot.
Real Kashmir gaffer David Robertson brought on striker Gnohere Krizo in the last 10 minutes, hoping to draw level with a two-pronged attack. However, East Bengal managed to hold on to their slender lead, bringing the Snow Leopards’ I-League title hopes to an end.