Aizawl, March 12 (IANS) East Bengal came back from the brink of defeat to overturn a two-goal deficit through Ranti Martins’ late hat-trick and win 3-2 against a spirited Aizawl FC in a drama-filled I-League football clash here on Saturday.
East Bengal were down in the dumps, trailing 0-2 with half an hour left to play, and were staring at a third consecutive defeat that would have all but ended their tournament-winning aspirations.
But Aizawl were reduced to 10 men in the 67th minute and nine in the 90th that gave the Kolkata giants a ray of hope which they capitalised on to the hilt, Ranti being at his predatory best to become the tournament’s leading scorer with 11 strikes.
Ranti netted in the 69th, 85th and 88th minutes to nullify goals from Brandon Vanlalremdika (19th) and Yuta Kinowaki (58th).
The win helps East Bengal consolidate their third position on the standings with 20 points from 11 matches and reignite their title ambitions following two straight losses. Aizawl are seventh with nine from 11 matches.
Aizawl dominated the first half but several mistakes in the second half cost them the game. They troubled East Bengal and took the lead when Kinowaki curled the ball and Brandon converted the chance.
They were more mobile and led at half-time 1-0. They continued their momentum at the beginning of the second session and forced former French international Bernard Mendy into a mistake. Yuta punished East Bengal for the mistake to make it 2-0.
East Bengal coach Biswajit Bhattacharya was forced to replace Shylo Malswamtulunga with Bikash Jairu and Jaoquim Abranches with Mohammed Rafique.
But it was the red card shown to defender Emmanuel Chigozie in the 67th minute that turned the tide for East Bengal.
Chigozie was evicted for pushing Ranti inside the box and the Nigerian converted the penalty to start the dramatic turnaround.
Fuelled by the numerical superiority, East Bengal, for the first time in the match, began to dictate proceedings and drew level with a Ranti header off a Bikash cross.
Three minutes later, he followed a Rafique cross from the right to score the game-clinching goal that took the wind out of Aizawl’s sails. The red card of Lalram Chullova only added insult to injury.