East Bengal three-match losing streak drew to an end with a 3-1 victory over Gokulam Kerala at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata on Saturday.
Their defence continued to leak goals but Lalramchullova’s 82nd-minute strike added to first-half goals from Brandon Vanlalremdika and Jobby Justin gave East Bengal their first win in almost a month that saw them lose twice at home while also going down 2-3 against Aizawl.
It helped them replace Mohun Bagan – their opponents in the derby – in the sixth position in points table, the latter dropping to eighth. East Bengal, Bagan and Gokulam all have nine points each but The Red and Gold are above on better goal difference. Gokulam, who has also played a match more than both Bagan and East Bengal, are at seventh.
The chaotic display in the 0-1 defeat to champions Minerva Punjab at home ensured drastic changes to the playing XI would be made in East Bengal’s last encounter before the all-important Kolkata derby. And coach Alejandro Menendez pulled off the biggest coup by eliminating Costa Rican World Cupper Johnny Acosta to the bench in favour of centre-back Salam Rajan Singh. Laldinrika Ralte replaced Kmalpreet Singh in midfield, while Yami Longvah gave way to Laldanmawia on the right-midfield and Rakshit Dagar returned on goal.
Unlike East Bengal’s struggles, Gokulam Kerala had begun the season on a high and had lost just once beating Minerva and Shillong Lajong in two of their three encounters, while also holding Churchill Brothers at home. But on Saturday, the Kozhikode side didn’t appear as they have been all season and Vanlalremdika made them pay just four minutes into the match. A Chullova cross from the space on the right was traded into his path by Enrique Esqueda from which the left-back slotted home.
Justin then doubled the lead 10 minutes later, after getting to the end of a through ball from Dika in which he beat Abhishek Das with pace and pressure.