Kolkata: Riding on a double strike by Tolgay Ozbey, East Bengal made a spectacular fightback to dash reigning champions Dempo`s title aspiration with a 3-2 victory in their return-leg I-League clash at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Sunday.
The win meant East Bengal`s maiden I-League title hope remained afloat with 47 points from 22 matches, while Dempo remained on 44 from same number of matches.
Ranty Martins (6th minute) gave the three-time league champions the lead and struck their second goal through a penalty by Beto in 90+9th minute after East Bengal were reduced to nine players when Nirmal Chhetri was shown a second red card, the day`s first red card.
East Bengal defender Gurwinder Singh was earlier sent off in the 69th minute.
In an eventful second half that was stretched by more than 10 minutes, East Bengal scored through Baljit Singh Sahni (47th) and Tolgay Ozbey (49th, 57th) as they were reduced to nine players in the dying minutes.
In the most crucial fixture, East Bengal paid the price of an early miss by Syed Rahim Nabi as Dempo cashed in on the first opportunity they got to give them a 1-0 lead at the break.
But East Bengal returned in style after the interval when Baljit and Ozbey struck in space of two minutes.
Minutes later, Ozbey struck again for a stunning 3-1 lead as Dempo were thrown out of gear.
More intense scenes were in store in the second half when Dempo and East Bengal were reduced to 10 players each after Clifford Miranda and Gurwinder Singh of the respective teams were shown red cards in a space of 10 minutes.
There was more wastage of time after linesman Shaji Kurian fell down after a muscle cramp as play was stopped for more than five minutes.
The hosts had a fine chance from a fourth minute freekick that was brilliantly taken by Mehtab Hossain but his effort went in vain as Nabi headed it wide.
Dempo, on the otherhand, were in no mood to relent as they went ahead from the first freekick that they received just two minutes after the East Bengal miss.
Miranda`s shot was clearly misjudged by the East Bengal defence as Gurwinder failed to clear the ball, while their goalkeeper Sandip Nandy too could not do much as Ranty found finished it nicely.
Having taken the early advantage, the Goans bolstered their defence with five players manning the backline.
Dempo custodian Subhashish Roychowdhury did a fine job in thwarting two clear attempts as they held their lead in the first period.
In the 15th minute, East Bengal`s Australian forward Ozbey launched an attack from the right but Roychowdhury did a fine job to nullify the attempt.
East Bengal got another chance in the 34th minute but this time a surging Baljit Singh Sahni missed a header from a fine cross by Orji Penn.
The second half began after a 17-minute delay as the floodlights at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan took time to reach full illumination.
The hosts regrouped and played with more vigour after the prolonged break as their attack looked more intent, something that resulted in two goals in a space of two minutes after the changeover.
Baljit finished nicely from a Harmonjit Khabra centre to earn East Bengal`s equaliser while Ozbey scored from a goalmouth melee to snatch the lead.
A fine solo effort by Ozbey down the left flank gave a 3-1 lead to East Bengal, something that did not go down well with the Goans.
After referee Dinesh Nair showed yellow to Mahesh Gawli, Miranda shoved the referee twice to be sent off.
The players attacked the referee and even coach Armando Colaco raided the pitch as play was stopped for more than five minutes.
After the match resumed, the linesman fell down following a muscle cramp while in the 75th minute Gawli fainted apparently because of the high humidity. He was soon rushed to the hospital.
The series of incidents meant an addition of 10 minutes in the second half during which Dempo pulled one back.