Barasat:Call it the Bob Houghton effect.
The national coach's understudy, Stanely Rozario, injected some much-needed confidence into the red-and-gold side as a spirited East Bengal pumped in three goals inside 30 minutes to open their ONGC I-League campaign with a 3-1 win over debutants United SC at the Vidyasagar Krirangan Stadium near Kolkata on Friday.
Rozario, who replaced Manoranjan Bhattacharya after East Bengal's poor third-place finish in the recently concluded Calcutta Football League (CFL), seemed to have found the right combination as his charges went in for the attack right from the start.
Had it not been for some excellent defending by R Dhanaranjan, East Bengal would have gone one up right at the start.
India striker Sunil Chhetri was then presented with an easy chance but the diminutive striker sent his shot into orbit after collecting the ball from Edmilson Marques.
East Bengal's another national player Renedy Singh too missed one, failing to convert a free-kick.
The city giants' moment of glory came in the ninth minute when Surkumar Singh blasted one into United SC's net that saw shoddy handiwork by keeper Arindam Ghosh.
The United SC goalkeeper got both his hands to the long shot from Surkumar but his effort fell short as East Bengal went ahead.
Rozario's "key man" Yusif Yakubu compounded miseries for United as in the space of 10 minutes East Bengal found themselves cosily-placed at 2-0.
Playing the role of an attacking midfielder in the absence of Alvito d'Cunha, Jayanta Sen and Dharamjeet Singh, the 35-year-old lived up to the coach's expectation as Rozario had already indicated that the Nigerian will play the role of a playmaker.
The two-time NFL top-scorer, Yakubu who represented Mahindra United last season, produced a clinical header using a measured Rennedy cross in the 19th minute to open his account in red-and-gold jersey.
Having missed a couple of easy chances, Sunil, the hat-trick man of the AFC Challenge Cup final, was bang on target in the 27th minute.
Zeroing in on a midfield lapse following Arnab Mondal's poor footwork, the former JCT striker shot one past an advancing Arindam to bring in his first goal for East Bengal.
Sunil was later adjudged Man-of-the-Match.
In contrast to the free-flowing first half, the second-half saw a very slow paced attack from East Bengal, who took it very easily for about half an hour after the changeover.
Under former Mohun Bagan veteran Subroto Bhattacharya, known for his fighting spirit, United SC regrouped and created a few chaces in the second-half.
Sankar Oraon impressed most in the second session coming close on more than one occasions.
Finally, lady luck did smile on him when his strong left-footer completely deceived national goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who found himself stranded as United SC reduced the margin.
From East Bengal's point of view, who went in for the kill right from the start, the second-half must have disappointed Rozario as the team seemed exhausted.
Sunil blamed it on the slippery ground condition due to heavy rainfall for the past few days.
"It was a good first half... But the condition was very bad. But we are happy for the fact that we went as per our plans," Sunil said.
Praising Rozario, he added, "He has made wonderful changes to the team... He brought in a lot of fresh ideas to the team. It will take time to get the result. We will improve with the matches."
East Bengal: Subrata Pal; Surkumar Singh, Suley Musah, Nirmal Chhetri, Saumik Dey; Syed Rahim Nabi, Mehrajuddin Wadao, Yusif Yakubu, Renedy Singh (Mehtab Hussain 58'); Edmilson Marques (Ashim Biswas 85'), Sunil Chhetri (Praveen Kumar 90+2).
United SC: Arindam Ghosh; Sasthi Duley (Subhashish Roy Chowdhury 12'), Kingshuk Debnath, Dulal Biswas (Sukhen Dey 83'), R Dhanarajan, Gauranga Dutta, Arnab Mondal, Lalmalswama Hmar (Hardip Singh Saini 49'), Snehashish Chakraborty, Ayan Chowdhury, Sankar Oraon.
ONGC Man-of-the-Match: Sunil Chhetri (East Bengal)
Yellow Cards: Rennedy Singh (56') and Nirmal Chhetri (57') (both East Bengal); Arnab Mondal (49') and Subhashish Roy Chowdhury (90') (both United SC).