East Bengal romped to a 2-0 victory in Coimbatore on Saturday evening after brushing aside a meek and mild Chennai City FC. Marcos de La Espada (66') scored his fifth of the season but it was Jaime Santos who starred, first with an assist and then with a goal from 12-yards (77').
The defending champions made four changes to the side that won 3-2 against Gokulam in the Southern derby. But the key players like Katsumi Yusa, Roberto Eslava and Fito continued to feature for the Lions.
Whereas, East Bengal's interim coach Bastab Roy made three alterations to the side that went down 2-1 in the Kolkata derby to Mohun Bagan. Lalthuammawia and Pintu Mahata were relegated to the bench and were replaced by Mirshad Michu and Brandon Vanlalremdika respectively. Whereas Asheer Akhtar came in place of a suspended Marti Crespi.
It was a lacklustre start to the match as both sides were happy to exchange possession at regular intervals, with no attacking rhythm whatsoever.
East Bengal earned a fortuitous penalty in the 15th minute when the ball struck Pravitto Raju's hand inside the box. But Santos failed to beat Nauset Santana from the spot as the keeper jumped in the right direction and pulled off a brilliant save.
As the match progressed the attacking trio of Juan Mera, Vanlalremdika and Santos started combining well in the right flank and were threatening Chennai's defence. In the 35th minute, Santos was sent through on goal by the Mizo winger but the Spaniard in a one-on-one position with Santana lost his composure and chipped the ball over the crosspiece.
The red and golds earned a couple of free-kicks from where they should have at least tested the keeper but on every occassion the ball sailed either high or wide. In fact, it were Chennai City that forced Michu to get into action when Yusa's free-kick which looked to destined to ripple the net was parried away to safety with an acrobatic save.
East Bengal started the second half with more intent and purpose in the attacking third. In the 48th minute, Vanlalremdika, who had swapped flanks with Mera, cut back incisively for Santos. The former Sporting Gijon B player created space for himself before shooting at goal but Santana flew his body towards the left and pulled off a save to keep the scoreboard unchanged. In the 52nd minute, the former Aizawl winger even found the net after Kassim Aidara spit open Chennai's defense with a through ball but the linesman had already raised his flag.
Roy's men kept piling pressure and just before the hour-mark they once again came agonisingly close to score but were denied by the woodwork. This time Santos returned the favour to Vanlalremdika with another peach of a through ball. The 25-year old chose to go for placement instead of power and even after getting the better of Santana his shot struck the post.
Ansumana Kromah was thrown in the mix to add more teeth in attack and within minutes of taking the pitch, he was in the thick of action. Chennai's Spanish keeper seemed to pull him down inside the box and what should have been a penalty on most occassions was waved off by the referee.
But East Bengal were finally rewarded for their persistence in the 68th minute when Espada scored the opener. The Spanish duo of Mera and Santos were the primary architects. Mera released his compatriot on the right flank and the 24-year old drilled in a low cross across the face of goal for Espada to simply tap into the net.
In the 77th minute, East Bengal scored their insurance goal from the spot and Santos redeemed himself for his earlier penance. Jishnu Balakrishnan tripped him inside the box and this time the ball went like a tracer bullet into the net as soon as he fired a grounder to Santana's right.
But what would make the victory bitter-sweet for the Kolkata giants is the injury to midfield linchpin Lalrindika Ralte who was stretchered off immediately after the second.
Nonetheless, this triumph away from home would definitely boost the morales of an East Bengal team who had lost three consecutive games including a derby before heading into the match. The three points see them climb to the fourth spot in the league table with 11 points from eight games. They would return to action on February 1 against the Indian Arrows.