Howrah: Former champions Punjab rallied from a goal down to edge past Odisha 2-1 in the opening game of the 72nd Santosh Trophy at the Sailen Manna Sports Complex in Howrah last evening. After a barren first-half, Odisha took the lead in the 62nd minute through Arpan Lakra only for Sarbjit to restore the parity for Punjab in the 70th minute.
However, an own goal by Odisha`s Rudra Pratap Pradhan sealed full three points for the Kuldip Singh-coached Punjab side. Both the teams started with caution, but it was Punjab who held the upper hand in the midfield but lacked coordination with the strikers, with Baltej Singh and Prameet Jhutty failing to deliver the goods.
Punjab had their first chance to go ahead in the 13th minute but Odisha defender D. Srinath came to the rescue to make a goal line save. At the other end, Odisha almost took the lead in the 24th minute through Bijay Behra but Punjab keeper Moses Anthony made a diving save to deny the young striker.
Punjab although were more organized in attack but could not penetrate deep into rival box as Odisha defenders kept Punjab strikers under check. Prameet, who was closely marked, had the best chance of the half but his attempt was collected by Odisha keeper Soumya Ranjan Das off a pass from Gurtej Singh in the 37th minute.
Meanwhile, Odisha came close to scoring twice late in the first half but Moses thwarted their attempts as the first half ended scoreless.Odisha pushed Punjab on the backfoot in the second half and were all over the rival box but failed to find the target as Moses came out with good saves to deny Bijay and Arpan from scoring.
However, Odisha`s persistent efforts finally bore fruit when Arpan found the back of the net just past the hour mark from Sunil Sardar`s pass. Having conceded, Punjab showed urgency in front of the rival goal and managed to score the equalizer eight minutes later when skipper Sarbjit nodded from a corner to bring his side on level.
Thereafter, it was all Punjab as the North Indian state created havoc in the Odisha box. The young Odisha defenders also made some brilliant clearances to frustrate the Punjab attackers. Nonetheless, Odisha`s luck finally ran out in the 82nd minute when Rudra Prasad scored an own goal while trying to clear Jagdip Singh`s goalbound attempt.
Though Odisha had a number of chances to restore the parity in the remainder but Punjab defended valiantly to grab all three points at stake.Punjab will now take on Mizoram on March 22 at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium while Odisha will face the same opponent at Howrah on March 24.