Barasat (West Bengal), Feb5: Veteran Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi scored a late winner to help East Bengal edge past Indian Arrows 1-0 in a rip-roaring I-League clash at the Barasat Stadium here on Sunday.
Dudu (90+3) headed in substitute Mohammed Rafique’s cross in the second-half stoppage time to save his side the blushes after they missed a flurry of chances and ensure that the hosts don’t drop two points and steer clear of arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the points table.
The result means East Bengal are now third with 23 points from 13 matches while fourth placed Mohun Bagan have 20 from 12 outings.
I-League debutants Neroca FC, who earlier in the day beat Gokulam Kerala FC to race to the top of the table, have 27 points from 14 games while second-placed Minerva Punjab FC have one point less after playing 12 matches.
The Arrows, positioned at a lowly eighth, now have 12 points from 14 ties.
The hosts made two changes to their starting XI from the 2-2 draw against Minerva Punjab FC in their last match as Deepak Singh and Armand Bazie made way for Lalram Chullova and new signing Asamuana Kromah.
The Arrows made two changes as well to the side that drew 0-0 against Chennai City FC with skipper Amarjit Singh and Abhijit Sarkar returning to the team in place of Suresh Singh Wangjam and Princeton Rebello.
Both teams lacked purpose up front in the initial exchanges with the first corner of the game coming in the 18th minute for the visitors.
East Bengal looked to play out from the back while the Arrows tried to hit on the counter.
In the 25th minute, the hosts earned their first corner and the frequency of their forays in the final third increased from there on.
Yusa Katsumi darted down the left flank to cross for Dudu whose powerful header was brilliantly saved by Arrows goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh Gill from point blank range.
Moments later, the 32-year-old Nigerian was denied by the woodwork after beating his marker Anwar Ali to take a swipe at the goal from inside the box.
Katsumi was the orchestrator for the home team, making a probing run once again but this time Dudu came in the way of his aimed pass to Jobby Justin.
Towards the end of the first half, Arrows carved open East Bengal’s defence as Rahul Kannooly Bala headed over and Rahim Ali failed to make the most of another good opportunity.
After the break, the city giants came close to taking the lead thrice in quick succession with Kromah and Dudu not making the most of gilt-edged chances.
East Bengal were relentless in their push to break the deadlock but somehow the goal kept eluding them. Coach Khalid Jamil raised a few eyebrows when he replaced the impressive Cavin Lobo with Brandon Vanlalremdika in the 67th minute.
Justin then spurned a couple of chances, first failing to connect to a delightful Samad Ali Mallick cross and then seeing his attempt from close saved by the superb visiting keeper Gill.
East Bengal threw in everything in the dying minutes of the high-octane encounter and it paid dividends when Dudu sent in a looping header off Rafique’s cross which finally beat Gill.