Hero Santosh Trophy: Services come from behind to down West Bengal

A second win trot has put Services on top of Group B of Hero Santosh Trophy, as they came from a goal down to beat the league favorites West Bengal

Head coach Bishwajit Bhattacharya had hoped that a day’s rest, some contemplation and as many as five changes to his starting eleven would galvanize a Bengal side that looked lackluster in their opener. It wasn’t to be. 

Despite a bright start, where they pressed high and harried Services off the ball, Bengal were, for the most part, outthought if not outplayed by a Services team that is proving to be as clinical as they are classy. Naro Hari Shreshta’s third goal of the Final rounds, scored in the 14th minute looked to have set up a Bengal resurgence. 

The goal itself came after a botched-up attempt by Services to play out from the back, defender Jijo Jerone misplacing a pass and conceding possession to Bengal who made no mistake in punishing them for it. From there, Services let their grit out on display. They pressed forward constantly, forcing, and hurrying Bengal’s midfield. And yet Bengal held out, ensuring that Services never really had a clear chance at goal, making them shoot from distance. 

With barely five minutes to go for the break, a silly foul conceded by Bengal at the top of the box, gifted Services a free kick from 25 yards, and in perfect position for Christopher Kamei to have a pop at the target. He did it perfectly, slotting his shot into the far corner to draw his team level. 

And yet, that goal did not kill Bengal’s spirits, and they came out for the second period the more energetic, Shreshta and Subrata Murmu in particular playing physically hard football to keep Services on their toes. Murmu in fact was played through on goal halfway through the period, had only the goalkeeper to beat to restore his team’s lead. Services goalkeeper and captain Bhabindra Malla Thakuri, a giant of a man anyway, extended himself fully, pulling off a brilliant one-on-one save to keep his side in the game. 

It proved, quite literally, to be the game changer. Thakuri’s save recharged Services, who went on to score the winner in the 82nd minute, Bikash Thapa slotting home from close range after exchanging passes with Ronaldo Singh in the box. It was enough for Services to wrap up the three points. 

Speaking after the game, Services coach MG Ramachandran acknowledged the advantage his team possessed, having not played the qualifiers for the Final rounds. “We are an unknown entity in many ways,” he said. “And this team is made up of boys who have played the National Games, and some entirely new boys, so it’s a good mix within the team itself. I hope they can keep progressing and get us to the knockouts.”

Also Read: Playing Hero Santosh Trophy abroad a rare opportunity, says Steven Dias

Also Read: Hero Santosh Trophy: Meghalaya, Railways pick first win

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