Title holders East Bengal regained their position atop the table getting past a spirited State Bank of Travancore 2-0 in a ninth National Football League tie in Kolkata on Tuesday.
Riding on spectacular strikes by ace forward Bhaichung Bhutia and substitute Subhas Chakraborty, East Bengal logged full points in the Salt Lake stadium match to bolster their tally to 30 points from 14 outings. Closest challengers Dempo Sports Club, Goa, are two points behind after playing the same number of games.
The winners seized control over the proceedings after withstanding the initial forays of the visitors and went ahead in the 20th minute. Latching on to a midfield pass from climax Lawrence, Bhutia launched into a serpentine run, dribbled past several rival defenders and put the ball into the net to the right of SBT goalkeeper Jean Christian.
Despite having to defend for most part of the 90-minute exchange, SBT went on the offensive from time to time and even created three scoring chances. But they squandered all of them to bring up the rear in the 12-horse race with nine points from 14 games.
As SBT pressed hard for the equaliser late into the second session, East Bengal made the scoreline 2-0 from a sudden counter in injury time. Following a combined move, the promising Subhas Chakraborty found the target with a diagonal shot from the right, that gave no chance to Christian.
SBT suffered a big blow in the early minutes when their number one goalkeeper Harshelle Rahman, in his bid to snatch the ball from an advancing Jeremiah, came out of his charge but hurt his ankle in the process. Rahman had to make way for Christian.
The bankmen launched a couple of attacks from the left soon after, and a Mohammed Ravi header from close went over.
SBT suffered another jolt in the 30th minute when their skipper Shabbir Ali got injured and was replaced by Shiv Kumar.
A little later a combined East Bengal raid saw the in-form Climax firing a firm right footer, and off an SBT defender the ball travelled to Bhutia, but Abdul Bashir effected a good clearance at the cost of a corner.
SBT came close to scoring in the dying minutes of the first half, as Anil Kumar found himself in the clear inside the East Bengal box, but custodian Rajat Ghosh Dastidar saved the situation as he threw himself on the ground and narrowed the angle before fisting the ball out for a flag kick.
East Bengal upped the ante after the breather and Climax missed an easy chance early into the session.
Bhutia and Jeremiah then drummed up a good rhythm and their combined move saw the latter unleashing a power-packed shot which went out.
Rajat, who did not have much work in the later half, was tested only once but came out with flying colours. Asif Saheer dodged past two East Bengal defenders and cut into the box, but his shot was fisted out of harm's way by the debonair East Bengal goalkeeper.