Medio Jayanta Sen's spectacular strike enabled East Bengal to a solitary goal win over JCT Mills, Phagwara, and helped them finish runners-up in the ONGC 10th National Football League tie in Kolkata on Monday.
The hard-working Sen followed up a Guy Endem square pass from the right and fired a snap right footer that went in off the hands of JCT custodian Kalyan Choubey, to boost the Kolkata club's points tally to 31 from 17 matches.
East Bengal wrapped up their NFL engagements behind Mahindra United (32 from 15 games), who have already won the crown. However, more importantly, the red and yellow brigade have now taken an unassailable seven-point lead over closest challengers and traditional rivals Mohun Bagan (24 from 15 games), who can at best hope for a third place finish.
The Salt Lake Stadium tie saw the two teams dish out a fast, entertaining variety of football in the first half, before losing steam post breather. The lacklustre second session experienced lots of bad passes, with the locals looking disjointed. The visitors, who have one game left, remained on 20 points from 16 matches.
JCT seemed aggressive from the outset, and but for a fine display from East Bengal goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, could have caused trouble for the city club.
East Bengal also created several opportunities, but failed to increase their margin.
Set up by Alvito De'Cunha, Bhaichung Bhutia frittered a good chance in the opening half, by going to an acute angle.
East Bengal started off well after lemon time, claiming four corners within a short span of time, but lapsed into mediocrity as time wore on.