Mauricio's brace dents East Bengal FC's playoff challenge as Odisha FC move to fifth
Diego Mauricio continued his fine form, bagging his second brace for Odisha FC in as many games as they put an end to their four-game winless streak to move into fifth place on the Hero ISL table on Saturday. Odisha FC fell behind early in the first half at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, but gave their home support much to cheer about as they outscored East Bengal FC for the remainder of the game.
Cleiton Silva, who is now the leading goalscorer of the season, put East Bengal FC in front in the 10th minute after capitalising on Odisha FC goalkeeper Amrinder Singh's mistake. Alex Lima played a lofted pass over the defence on the right side, and Amrinder rushed out indecisively to find himself stranded. Silva showed no hesitation in chipping the ball from a tight angle and put the visitors in front.
Odisha FC nearly levelled the score minutes later, when Thoiba Singh picked up the ball from Mauricio as he drove into the box, and found Jerry Mawihmingthanga unmarked at the far post. The forward couldn't keep his balance as he pushed the ball wide of the far post of an open goal.
But the hosts didn't have to wait for too long after that, with Raynier Fernandes whipping a cross into the six-yard box from a corner and finding no resistance from the East Bengal FC. He found Mauricio a few yards in front of the goalkeeper, and the striker stuck his right foot out to score.
On either side of the half-time whistle, Odisha FC then found the goals to put the fixture to bed. The first of those was a fortuitous one for Nandhakumar Sekar, who was looking to cross the ball in from the left and ended up slicing it with his left foot. The ball kept going in its original path and eventually cleared East Bengal FC goalkeeper Suvam Sen to land in the back of the net.
Not long after the second half began, Mauricio picked up a second goal. Fernandes was the provider for him once again, pushing forward from the right side of central midfield before slipping it into the channel for Mauricio on the right side of the box. The striker picked up the ball, kept his composure with the lack of a press from the defence, and managed to dink the ball into the near post past Sen's left shoulder.
East Bengal FC produced a host of chances from there on, trying to throw players forward in numbers, and came close on a few occasions but never with any conviction. In the 85th minute, Ankit Mukherjee managed to put the ball past Amrinder's near post after a scramble in the box, but the effort was flagged offside. That was the biggest highlight of a period of end-to-end football as the game headed towards the final whistle, where neither team managed to give other anything substantial to worry about.
Eventually, Odisha FC picked up the three points that put them ahead of FC Goa in the playoffs race. They travel to Bengaluru on January 14 to add to their tally. East Bengal FC stay in ninth place with a game in hand over Bengaluru FC, and return home on January 13 to host Jamshedpur FC.