Panaji, Jan 22: SC East Bengal suffered their first defeat in eight matches as table-toppers Mumbai City FC registered a slender 1-0 win, courtesy Mourtada Fall's 27th-minute goal, in their second-leg Hero ISL fixture at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Friday.
SCEB started their thirteenth match (seventh 'home' game) this season with a couple of changes in the line-up as Matti Steinmann and Harmanpreet Singh came in for Bright Enobakhare and Ajay Chhetri, who was serving a one-match suspension.
The match also marked SCEB left-back Narayan Das' 100th Hero ISL appearance as he became only the second player to reach the milestone after Mandar Rao Desai in the tournament's seven-year history.
MCFC are arguably the most balanced side in the competition, having scored the most number of goals (17) and conceded the least (4) prior to this contest. They defeated SCEB 3-0 the last time around, thanks to goals from Adam Le Fondre (2) and Hernan Santana.
However, the Red-and-Golds produced a far better display on Friday as compared to the previous encounter, as they dominated the match statistics and put MCFC under tremendous pressure in the second-half.
The visitors had the first chance of breaking the deadlock in the 3rd minute when Le Fondre's shot on target off a Cy Goddard square pass went just wide of the target.
Another great chance fell in their way in the 14th minute when Hugo Boumous failed to cash in on a rare Debjit Majumder fumble as the MCFC midfielder ballooned his shot way over the crossbar.
They did manage to get on the scoresheet in the 27th minute when Fall comfortably nodded in a pinpoint cross from Boumous inside the SCEB box. The goal was the product of a set-piece as Goddard's corner from the left was first headed behind by Mehtab Singh before being latched on to by Boumous at the edge of the box.
MCFC came dangerously close to doubling their lead in the first-half stoppage time when Le Fondre got on the end of a perfect cross by Bipin Singh from the left flank, but the MCFC striker's free header went off target.
Trailing the visitors by a goal at the halfway stage, the hosts came out all guns blazing in the second-half in search of the coveted equaliser.
SCEB Head Coach Robbie Fowler rang in three changes early in the second-half as Md Rafique, Rana Gharami and Wahengbam Angousana came on for Surchandra Singh, Ankit Mukherjee and Milan Singh.
In the 64th minute, SCEB skipper Danny Fox had a glorious chance to get his side on level terms, but let it slip as he was unable to place his header off an Anthony Pilkington corner on target.
The SCEB attack was bolstered massively with the inclusion of Bright Enobakhare who replaced Matti Steinmann in the 63rd minute.
From then on, the Red-and-Golds surpassed their opponents in terms of building up attacks and creating chances.
MCFC could hardly match up against SCEB's dominance in the final quarter of the game. The hosts could've easily scored two goals during this period had they been able to convert the chances that came their way.
In the 74th minute, Enobakhare laid up a beautiful delivery for Anthony Pilkington at the near post, but the latter's effort went over the crossbar.
Scott Neville then forced MCFC captain and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh into a save in the 85th minute with a goal-bound shot after cutting into the box from the right.
A couple of minutes later, Harmanpreet Singh was one-on-one with the MCFC shot-stopper, but failed to place his header off an Aaron Amadi-Holloway (substitute for Fox in the 82nd minute) cross on target.
In the end, MCFC managed to hold on to their lead and register their ninth win this season, besides extending their unbeaten run to eleven matches.
SCEB, on the other hand, remain rooted in the tenth position with twelve points from thirteen matches (two wins, six draws and five losses).
Sharing his thoughts about the result at the virtual post-match Press conference, Fowler said, 'It was a performance that we can be rightly proud of. Okay we have not won the game, but we have shown everybody around the world how much possession we had in the game. I think we look so much more like a well-rounded team.'
SCEB play FC Goa next, at the Fatorda Stadium on January 29.