A late strike by Brazilian Douglas da Silva saved East Bengal from blushes as the defending champions scraped past Mohammedan Sporting 1-0 in a Kolkata Super Division football league match in Kolkata on Saturday.
Douglas, though lacking in fitness, rose to the occasion by heading home from a corner in the 68th minute at the Salt Lake stadium.
However, the overall display by the red and gold brigade, who took the tie as a practice match for a club tournament in England next week, left question marks over their preparations and prospects for the international engagement.
Coach Subhas Bhowmick, who fielded his first choice team, had reasons to be concerned, particularly about the form of star strike Baichung Bhutia.
The Sikkimese failed to translate a golden chance in the 16th minute before wasting the easiest opportunity of the day in the 71st minute when he, being fed by Bijen Singh, had all the time and space to slot home but his shot hit Sporting defender Nausad Musa inches away from the goalline.
In another match, Mohun Bagan paid for a penalty miss by medio Noel Wilson to finish goalless against Port Trust. Bagan's veteran midfielder Basudeb Mondal also let go a gilt-edged opportunity in an otherwise dull outing at the home ground.
For coach Subrata Bhattacharjee, the more disappointing fact was the poor display of new Brazilian recruit Reggis Montero, who eventually had to be withdrawn midway through his first game.
In the East Bengal-Sporting tie, Douglas had another look at the rival goal when his curling free-kick from 30 yards moved in dangerously before goalkeeper Chinmoy Banerjee saved it for a corner in the 15th minute.
Sporting, who mostly focussed on funneling the dreaded rival attacks, had a positive chance in the 34th minute when Siddhartha Thapa foxed the rival defence and moved into the box with only the custodian Rajat Ghosh Dastidar to beat, but defender Deepak Mondal rushed in to save the situation.
East Bengal now have 14 points from six matches while Sporting remained on three points from as many outings.