Updated: Feb 26
Panaji, Feb 23: Playing their nineteenth match and final 'home' fixture of their maiden Hero Indian Super League campaign, SC East Bengal suffered a 1-2 loss to NorthEast United FC in their second-leg encounter at the Fatorda Stadium on Tuesday.
NEUFC got on the scoresheet through VP Suhair (48') and Sarthak Golui's own-goal (56'), while Golui pulled one back for SCEB in the 87th minute to become their first Indian scorer in the tournament.
The SCEB think-tank made eight changes to the starting XI that took on ATKMB in the Kolkata derby last Friday. Among the players coming in, goalkeeper Mirshad Koottappunna made his Hero ISL debut, while Bikash Jairu and Jeje Lalpekhlua made their 50th and 75th appearances in the competition respectively.
The first-half ended goalless as chances went begging for both sides. NEUFC looked the better team in this half, but SCEB managed to prevent them from scoring.
Mirshad was called into action several times in the early exchanges, and he made some fine saves to delay NEUFC's lead.
The Highlanders broke the deadlock early in the second-half when wing-half Imran Khan's forward through found Suhair inside the SCEB box, who slotted home his maiden ISL goal with an angular left-footed finish.
Khalid Jamil's side had their lead doubled soon after when Nim Dorjee's cross, headed for the SCEB goalmouth, was mistakenly put into the net by Golui in the 56th minute.
The hosts were dealt another blow in the 71st minute when defender Raju Gaikwad was given his marching orders after being booked twice in the match.
In the 83rd minute, SCEB nearly pulled one back as substitute Surchandra Singh fired in a powerful long-range shot that forced NEUFC goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury into a fine save.
SCEB reduced the deficit four minutes later through Golui. The 23-year old defender met a quality free-kick from Surchandra to nod home his third ISL goal and first in red-and-gold colors.
SCEB Assistant Coach Tony Grant attributed NEUFC's first goal to his team's lapse in concentration. 'I thought first half we sort of controlled the game, I didn’t see them really causing us many problems… the goal came from a long ball to our forward and no one backed him up. Then there was a lack in concentration and cohesion. …We had a 20-minute spell when the lads all of a sudden just fell apart before they got back into the game,' he said at the virtual post-match Press conference.
'All we have to do is get the recruitment right, the training programme is fine. These are the things that need to be done and spoken about for the next season,' the former Everton and Manchester City footballer added.
SCEB play their final game this season against Odisha FC, at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim on February 27.