Prolific Trinidadian Willis Deon Plaza headed home a 90th-minute winner to script Churchill Brothers’ 1-0 win over East Bengal that took them to the top of the I-League points table, in Margao on Saturday.
Churchill now have three wins from four games while the Kolkata-based side dropped to third with eight points from five.
The game looked like meandering towards a draw but Plaza struck his fourth of the season after coming close on at least three occasions earlier in the game.
Churchill’s Portuguese coach Fernando Tavares rang in wholesale changes as did his Spanish counterpart Alejandro Menendez Garcia.
East Bengal were playing after a long three-week break but Churchill’s previous outing was a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Indian Arrows.
The visitors earned five corners compared to Churchill’s one in the first half-hour. The referee also had a busy half having to flash his card as many as three times. It ended with a Plaza flash strike but the scoreline remained goalless.
Plaza tried to break the deadlock in the 62nd minute but missed from close, two minutes later, he hit the cross-bar.
It was Bengal’s turn to hit back with Crespi’s crisp right-footer thudding the Churchill bar in the 85th minute and Espada, a minute later, missed the target from a lay-off from Colado.
Finally, a measured cross from super-sub Israil Gurung, who came in late in the second half, found a lurking Plaza who banged it home past a diving Lalthuammawia Ralte to dent the Red & Gold’s unbeaten run.
TRAU FC, Punjab FC play out a goalless draw
In the earlier I-League game in the day, hosts TRAU FC played out a goalless but entertaining draw with Punjab FC at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium in Imphal on Saturday.
TRAU FC head coach Dimitris Dimitriou seemed happy to stick to his side’s new-found resilience and made just one change with Ghanaian forward Kofi Tetteh starting upfront ahead of Krishnananda Singh in a classic 4-3-3 formation.
On the contrary, Yan Law made a number of changes to his Punjab FC line-up that dropped points away in Aizawl. Teah Baysah Dennis returned to the starting eleven, as did Cavin Lobo in the middle of the park.
Dipanda Dicka, who has played an instrumental role as a super-sub this season, was also given the nod to start.
Punjab FC started dominating the match with possession from the first whistle.
In the 9th minute, Lobo earned a freekick for Punjab after he was brought down by a TRAU player. Sanju took a shot and Danilo headed it just above the bar.
TRAU created their first chance of the game in the 17th minute but that was not enough to threaten the Nepal Captain Kiran Limbu.
In the 30th minute, Sanju’s shot got blocked by the opposition custodian which could have broken the deadlock.
In the 37th minute, TRAU made a counter-attack but Abhishek Dash couldn’t find the back of the net as his shot went way above the bar as the first half ended with a 0-0 deadlock.
TRAU lost the possession early in the second half as the warriors launched a series of attacks from both the flanks with some threatening passes into the box but none of them got capitalized.
In the 62nd minute, Punjab FC coach Yan Law brought birthday boy Girik Khosla on to the pitch in search of the opening goal.
The hosts showed some quality with their attacks and suddenly looked like the better side but weren’t able to break the strong defensive line of the warriors.
With each passing minute, Punjab FC showed signs of desperation for the opening goal and in the 85th minute, skipper Sanju Pradhan made an optimistic effort from 25 yards out which was whiskers away from perfection.
Honors were eventually shared at the full time.
Punjab FC will now fly to Srinagar to face Real Kashmir on January 10.
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