David Sunday's hat-trick was in vain, as East Bengal rode on a late strike from Robin Singh to register a hard-fought 4-3 victory over United Kerala in an I-League match at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Monday.
East Bengal now have 44 points from 23 matches, while the Kerala outfit remains in the relegation zone with 17 from 23 outings.
In a must-win the match to deny league leaders Dempo the title, East Bengal started on a positive note, surging to a 2-0 lead in the first-half till Sunday made his presence felt.
East Bengal's Nigerian mideo Penn Orji gave the home team a 25th minute lead following a move by their Australian forward Tolgay Ozbey.
The Aussie made it 2-0 in the 32nd minute when he beat two Kerala defenders and scored with brilliant finish.
Just when it seemed East Bengal would runaway with the match, Sunday put the encounter on an even keel.
He reduced the margin to 2-1 in the 37th minute, beating East Bengal goalkeeper Gurwinder Singh with a left-footer, and four minutes later scored another goal to restore parity for the team from Kerala.
United snatched the lead when Sunday completed his hat-trick with a brilliant right-footer.
But there was more drama in store as Ozbey scored his second goal in the 54th minute to make the scoreline 3-3.
Delhi youngster Robin then scored for East Bengal in the 77th minute after being set up brilliantly by Penn to settle the issue.