Kolkata, Feb 9 (IANS) A hattrick by Nigerian striker Ranti Martins helped East Bengal cruise past Shillong Lajong 4-0 and go atop the I-League points table at the Barasat Stadium here on Tuesday.
Martins (17th, 26th, 37th minutes) exploited some poor defending by the Lajong defenders to put East Bengal 3-0 up in the first half. Bikash Jairu (52nd) rounded off the tally after the break.
The red and gold brigade now have 14 points from seven games while Shillong Lajong remain at the fifth spot with seven points.
The game also witnessed Lajong defender Konsham Chinglensana Singh being sent off for two yellow card offences. The second yellow was flashed when Singh brought down rival defender Bernard Mendy at the 82nd minute mark. It was a heavy tackle and the referee had no choice but to give Singh the marching orders.
Lajong started the game on a strong note and should have gone ahead in the ninth minute. Bipin Singh took advantage of some poor marking by the East Bengal defence to latch onto a Boithang Haokip cross inside the six-yard box with the goalkeepr at his mercy.
But to the relief of the home crowd, Bipin put his header wide off the farpost.
East Bengal were gradually able to get a hold on the game and Martins eventually gave the hosts an early advantage by slotting in his fifth goal of the season.
The move was initiated by veteran midfielder Mehtab Hossain who passed it to Sanju Pradhan. The latter then sent in the floater for Martins which the Nigerian marksman easily tapped home.
A few minutes later, Martins grabbed his second of the evening from a 24-yard pile driver, this time it was Mehtab who provided the assist to the 29-year-old.
Lajong had barely recovered from the dual shock before Martins came up with a beatiful effort to net his third goal.
It was the Nigerian who passed it to his strike partner Mohammed Rafique and the forward in return played a delightful chip back to him. Martins kept his composure amidst a couple of strong challenges by the defenders and deftly evaded diving Lajong goalkeeper Vishal Kaith before burying the ball in the net.
After the restart, Lajong tried hitting the hosts on the counter, Penn Orji came close twice but somehow the East Bengal defenders were able to negate the threat.
But then at the other end Jairu scored for East Bengal after Rafique laid it to him. The Sikkimese midfielder tried to cross it into the box, but the ball went in after a fumble from Kaith.