Pune FC battled through a tough situation of losing two key players for a major part of the game and went down fighting 1-2 to Kingfisher East Bengal in the 33rd Federation Cup at the Yuba Bharti Kirangan, Kolkata.
East Bengal scored their goals through Alan Gow (42nd) and Robin Singh (82nd), before Pune FC’s striker Jeje Lalpekhlua raised hopes of a comeback with a 54th minute header.
The result throws the group wide open with Pune FC still in contention of a semifinal berth though their Kolkata rivals head standings with four points. Dempo, meanwhile, opened their account with a 3-1 win over MD. Sporting.
Pune FC took the field adding Kamaljeet Kumar to the playing XI in place of Lester Fernandez.
The hosts expectedly set the early pace with striker Alan Gow and Robin Singh (two of the six changes East Bengal made from the last squad) going close with soft chances. Close on the heels was Pune FC ‘keeper Subrata Paul who did well to pluck the ball from Saumik Dey’s feet on the deep left corner of the penalty box.
Pune FC settled when striker Mandjou Keita gave the opponents butterflies by driving straight into the hands of the rival custodian. The striker surprisingly profited from a mix up beaten four East Bengal defenders to a ball played by Othallo Tabia from the right but could not get the punch to make an impact.
Twenty-five minutes on, PFC custodian, Subrata rising to thwart Gow’s aerial advances, after Naoba Singh sent in a cross from the right, collided and in the bargain ended with the ‘keeper jerking his leg, which put an end to his day. With Paul stretchered out, his responsibility fell on the shoulders of 18-year-old Amrinder Singh.
Gow was in the thick of action all along thereafter, which bore fruit in the 42nd minute when he curled in a left-footer to the far corner past a leaping Amrinder who got a hand but could not keep it out.
As if Paul’s exit was not enough, Pune FC had to face the misfortune of having Keita brought down by Mehtab Hossain as he turned to get space and resume the solo attack he started.
Keita’s exit brought on Douhou Pierre after the game resumed. As play progressed, Pune FC despite the loss of their players had Shanmugam Venkatesh miss from ten yards when his right-footed instep was too soft to breach the keeper.
Pune FC picked up the pace and had Jeje chased by four defenders to thwart his move. At the other end Gow went over.
Pune FC brought in Subash and added sting to their attack. It paid off almost instantaneously. Subash sidestepping a defender found the overlapping Otahllo on the right who did well to cross which defender Raju Gaekwad missed allowing Jeje a free header which he put away to the top corner at the second post.
Level on scores, Pune FC was pushed into defending with East Bengal coming at them after adding Tolgay Ozbey for defender Uga Okpara and Sanju Pradhan later. In between, PFC survived as Gow missed from close.
Pune FC striker Jeje was checked and Douhou combined with Jeje who in turn put Arata in the clear on the left with a through. However, Arata too was checked by the defence.
As Pune FC stepped up their game, defender Chika limped to the sideline, which was not a big worry as he was back on the pitch but before that the local favourites had done the damage. In the 82nd minute, East Bengal had Gow send in a cross from the left which Amrinder missed the flight and so did Kamaljeet Kumar leaving Robin Singh with enough time to slam home the winner.
Amrinder then denied a Sanju try from long, before Subash chased a long ball played by Douhou to the goalline controlled and played it back to Jeje, who failed to keep the ball down in his try.