Trinidadian goal machine Willis Deon Plaza headed a 90th-minute winner against East Bengal at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao, Goa on Saturday to take an ecstatic Churchill Brothers to the top of the 13th I-League points table with three wins from four games. The Kolkata-based side dropped to third with eight points from five. The game looked like meandering towards a draw when Plaza struck his fourth of the season after coming close on at least three occasions earlier in the game.
Churchill's Portuguese coach Fernando Tavares rang in wholesale changes as did his Spanish counterpart Alejandro Menendez Garcia as both coaches looked for three points. East Bengal was playing after a long three-week break but Churchill's previous outing was a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Indian Arrows.
The hosts left out keeper James Kithan and midfielders Israil Gurung and Vangchhia from their last outing and brought in Jaffer Mondal in goal and went for the solidity of local lads Glan Martins and Richard Costa in the crucial fixture.
The Red and Golds also made as many as four changes playing the likes of Jamie Santos Colado, Abhijit Sarkar, Didika Ralte and Mehtab Singh in place of Asheer, Pintu Mahata, Ronaldo Augusto and Samad Ali Mallick.
The Goans had the first bite at the cherry as early as the 4th minute when Mapuia was released close to by Plaza, only to earn his side the game's first corner.
The visitors went on to earn five corners compared to Churchill's one in the first half-hour. The referee also had a busy half having to flash his card as many as three times. It ended with a Plaza flash strike but the scoreline remained goalless.
Plaza tried to break the deadlock in the 62nd minute but missed from close, two minutes later, he hit the cross-bar.
It was the visitors turn to hit back with Crespi's crisp right-footer thudding the Churchill bar in the 85th minute and Espada, a minute later, missed the target from a lay-off from Colado.
Finally, a measured cross from super-sub Israil Gurung, who came in late in the second half, found a lurking Plaza who banged it home past a diving Lalthuammawia Ralte to dent the Red & Gold's unbeaten run in the I-League 2019-20.