A listless East Bengal dropped crucial points as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Shillong Lajong in the I-League football fixture at the Kanchenjunga Stadium at Shillong on Wednesday.
Fresh from their goalless stalemate in the derby against Mohun Bagan, East Bengal were forced to play a catch-up game after Shillong’s Samuel Lalmuanpuia drew the first blood in the 20th minute.
Willis Plaza headed past Vishal Kaith to equalise for East Bengal in the 45th minute but they could not get any goal in the second half with the Shillong goalkeeper putting up a brave front.
This was the I-League leaders’ second successive draw after a six-match winning streak and they now have 21 points from nine matches, which would allow Mohun Bagan to do all the catching-up.
It would be a morale booster for the Thangboi Shingto-coached side that has a point after a loss to DSK Shivajians at home. They now have 13 points from nine matches.
This was their first away match after five consecutive home outings and they have lost to the Trevor Morgan-coached side only once in five outings.
Shillong Lajong faced East Bengal four times last season — twice each in I-League and Federation Cup.
While East Bengal won the first I-League game 4-0 courtesy a Ranti Martins hat-trick, the last three games they have lost twice and drawn once, getting out of Federation Cup in the first round.
Following an attacking start by East Bengal, the young Shillong outfit, with eight under-22 recruits, stepped up the tempo.
Aser Pierrick Dipanda ran in from the centre and played it wide to an unmarked Bipin Singh whose cross was headed in by a surging Lalmuanpuia.
Australian signing Chris Payne made his debut in red and gold colours as he started alongside Plaza in Morgan’s diamond formation.
The home side straightway pressed for a lead, earning a second minute corner, and there were a flurry of attacks with none of them resulting in a goal.
Wedson’s volley went over the bar in the fourth minute while moments later Plaza went past four defenders, only to shoot away with a weak leftfooter.
Payne had a 58-minute appearance on his debut but the Aussie failed to make much of an impression and was replaced by Robin Singh.
Payne cut a sorry figure with his brazen tackle but still escaped without a booking from referee Santosh Kumar in his maiden outing on Indian soil.
East Bengal had the best chance to go one up in the 56th mintue, in what could have been an own goal with Plaza’s strike taking Chinglensana Singh Konsham’s deflection before Kaith parried it away.