A wasteful East Bengal played out a goal-less draw against Shillong Lajong FC in a Round 21 I-League fixture at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan to virtually end their title hopes on Friday.
The result keeps Lajong above East Bengal who now trail league leaders Bengaluru FC by 13 points with three games in hand. Lajong made a bright start and hit the woodwork in the third minute as Uilliams Bomfin's long-range freekick was saved on to the post by East Bengal custodian Abhijit Mondal.
The red-and-gold brigade struggled to get going in the early stages as they were very wasteful in possession. Lajong created plenty of openings but they lacked finishing with Japanese Taisuke Matsugane also heading wide despite being unmarked inside the box.
The Shillong side's next chance came after a Boithang Haokip freekick as Abhijit failed to collect the ball properly but no Lajong player could capitalise from the rebound. East Bengal were relying entirely on aerial balls and the long throws of Raju Gaikwad.
Their first real attempt for East Bengal came from a Raju throw as Edeh Chidi latched on to a loose ball but narrowly missed the target.
With the home side struggling to retain possession, Armando Colaco replaced young Subodh Kumar with Cavin Lobo in midfield but Lajong continued to be the better side but could not score because of their poor finishing and some fine goalkeeping from Abhijit.
Uilliams wasted an opportunity after being played through by Boithang while later on Abhijit did well to deny Boithang from long range. Minutes before the interval, the 36-year-old custodian saved Redeem Talang's header from six yards after a brilliant cross from Uilliams.
East Bengal made a much better start to the second period and looked to take the lead when Lobo got a clear sight of goal after exchanging passes with Chidi but the midfielder missed the target.
Lajong lacked the threat going forward in the second half but were well organised at the back. However, a fine through pass from Lalrindika Ralte sent substitute Semilen Doungel clean through on goal but the youngster could not keep his composure and failed to hit the target.
That was East Bengal's best chance of the game but it was not until the 83rd minute that they tested Lajong keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte, who showed great reflexes to parry Ralte's half-volley for a corner.