Panchkula (Haryana), Feb 13: Heavyweights East Bengal kept their title hopes alive with an important 1-0 victory over surprise league leaders Minerva Punjab FC in a highly anticipated I-League encounter at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium here on Tuesday.
Seasoned campaigner Cavin Lobo scored the winner in the 60th minute as East Bengal, who had to win in order to stay afloat, cut the gap on Minerva to three points.
Third-placed East Bengal now have 26 points with Minerva remaining on 29. Both the outfits have four matches remaining with second-placed Neroca FC playing one match more and on 28 points.
East Bengal, who are yet to win the I-League, play their next four games against relegation threatened teams Gokulam FC (February 17) and Chennai City FC (Feb 24) followed by Neroca (Feb 27) and Shillong Lajong (March 3).
The home team, bolstered by the arrival of Ivory Coast midfielder Armand Bazie who jumped ship from East Bengal, made one change to their starting line up from the last game. Midfielder Souvik Das replaced left-back Abhishek Ambekar.
Visiting coach Khalid Jamil, meanwhile, ringed in three changes from their last outing. Star midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna was back from injury, much to the fans’ relief and replaced Ansumana Kromah.
Arnab Mondal made a comeback too replacing inexperienced Mehtab Singh and Yami Longvah, making his I-League debut for the club, took Joby Justin’s place.
The first half saw no goals with Longvah failing to convert from one on one situation in the 33rd minute after Dudu Omagbemi set the debutant up inside the box.
Longvah was replaced by Kromah three minutes later as both teams went into into the break locked goalless.
In the second half, East Bengal appealed vehemently for a penalty when Ivory Coast defender Guy Dano handled the ball inside the box from Salam Ranjan Singh’s cross.
The visitors took the lead through Lobo who unleashed a long distance venomous strike into the top corner of the net.
Minerva tried hard to draw level but away goalkeeper Ubaid CK made some smart saves towards the end of the game.