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These are the days of the underdogs in the I-League. Another giant-killing act was enacted in the tournament, the third in a row at the Cooperage in Mumbai, since the start of this edition, when minnows Air-India humbled mighty East Bengal 2-0 on their preferred home turf in a third round match on Sunday.
This is the biggest score that the air-men have ever recorded against the famed Red and Gold brigade from the 'City of Joy'. Their earlier wins were by mere 1-0 margins.
Left-wing back Surojit Roy (48th minute) and central midfielder Michael Tayo (79th minute) delivered the knock-out blows that silenced the listless three-times National Football League champions, who missed four of their star players due to injury and illness.
The victory swelled the local side's tally to five points (a win and two draws) while East Bengal, who crashed to their second defeat, have three points.
Stanley Rosario's visiting side established early ascendancy, with
veteran Yakubu Yusif orchestrating the moves from the midfield and strikers Asim Biswas and Praveen Kumar each testing rival custodian Arup Debnath in the first five minutes.
However, Bimal Ghosh's outfit stole back the momentum with their swift
counters from the flanks through Soccor Velho and Roy. From one such run initiated by Velho from the centre-line, Kailash Patil, from the centre, released Roy, who sped down the left into the box and beat onrushing Subrata Paul with a deft placement.
The introduction of nippy striker Subhas Singh in place of Patil in the
second session multiplied East Bengal's problems as ageing stopper Suley Musah was run ragged time and again by the cut and thrust of Air-India's attacks.
From one such raid, Subhas dispossessed substitute Jayanta Sen in midfield and raced towards the target where Tayo stole the ball from him and fired a low top-of-the-box shot that beat Paul all ends up.
East Bengal mounted a few ineffective raids, with Yakubu now leading the charge, but the home defence, marshaled by Nigerian Chukwuma Udofia, rose to the occasion and gave nothing away.
The string of reserves suffered by the glamour Kolkata clubs, both home and away, shows that the Indian football sun no longer rises in the East and the 'Big Two' will need a miracle if they are to grab hold of the I-League title this season around.
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