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Ranty Martins strike wins Prayag United maiden IFA Shield

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An 80th minute strike from Ranti Martins sealed the fate of the IFA Shield final, as Prayag United etched their name onto the famous trophy. The loss meant that East Bengal missed out on the possibility of a domestic quadruple this season, while the victory resulted in Prayag United (formerly known as United Sports Club) winning their maiden IFA Shield.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the busier of the two keepers throughout the game, and was able to pull off some good saves to keep East Bengal in the game. However, Ranti Martins found an opportune moment to strike, after a Malsawmtluanga split the East Bengal backline into half.

Prayag United came into the final having got five days of rest, while East Bengal were playing their third game within a week, as AFC Cup duties meant that they had to fly in on Thursday before needing to go all the way to penalties to edge out their fierce rivals Mohun Bagan on Sunday. So, in that respect, it was advantage Prayag, as they were the fresher of the two teams.

Trevor Morgan opted to play last game’s hero Andrew Barisic from the start over Chidi Edeh. The match got off to a scrappy start, but the midfield battles were being won by the Prayag duo of Lalkamal Bhowmick and Costa Rican superstar Carlos Hernandez, as they flayed the ball about with panache and nonchalant touches. Ranti Martins found himself as a benefactor from their service, as he was played in by a Hernandez long ball. However, the bumpy turf coupled with a retreating Gurwinder Singh made sure that no real threat arose from the situation.

East Bengal started to get into the game as the time rolled on, and were enjoying some favourable positions and space on the left-hand side. First, Lalrindika Ralte and then Baljit Sahni popped on the the left to whip in crosses, but neither were able to trouble Sangram Mukherjee in the Prayag goal.

The last real attempt of the first period came from the right, as a cross into the box reached Ralte, who had come in from the left, but his curling attempt with the outside of his boot was easily dealt with.

The second half saw Prayag come out with renewed enthusiasm, and Asif tested Gurpreet within the first minute of the half. 5 minutes later, and it was Gurpreet again who came to the rescue, as he used his full 6’5″ frame to palm over a Carlos Hernandez effort that was destined for the top left-hand corner of his goal.

The game was becoming stretched, and if Baljit Sahni had kept his composure, he could have set up an East bengal goal on 52 minutes. With men to his support both on the left and right, Baljit chose the wrong option of attempting a hit from 25 yards out, and only managed to scuff a shot away.

James Singh tried his luck from lang range on 58 minutes, only to be repelled again, as Gurpreet kept his concentration. On the other end, Barisic, who now had Edeh Chidi to play alongside him, was looking the most likely to make things happen for the Red and Gold.

As the match was strolling towards extra time, Martins found the net, with his strike proving be the solitary goal of the evening. The Nigerian came in from the left, making a timely run in behind, and latched onto a perfect through ball from Malsawmtluanga to lash it home. Gurpreet did his best as he got a fingertip to it, but it was all in vain, as the ball trickled into the East Bengal net.

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East Bengal committed almost everyone in attack in the final minutes, and it nearly paid off for them, as Edeh Chidi missed a gilt-edged chance on 82 minutes, heading high and handsome from six yards out.

After 4 minutes of stoppage time, when the final whistle blew, history had been made. The IFA Shield would have a new name etched on it, and in the process, Prayag United became the first team from Kolkata to win the trophy outside of the big three of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting.

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