Iker Guarrotxena scored a hat-trick inside the opening quarter, the fastest of this season, to lift FC Goa up into third place in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 standings after a 4-2 victory over East Bengal FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here on Thursday.
The 12-minute salvo from Guarrotxena took his goal tally for the season into double figures and propelled the Spaniard to the top of the goalscoring charts. The result also struck a blow to East Bengal FC's playoff hopes, and they now find themselves ten points off sixth place with five games to go.
The Gaurs made no changes to their lineup from the previous game as head coach Carlos Pena only changed the formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-2-3. The Torch Bearers made three changes that saw the inclusion of Ivan Gonzalez, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Sumeet Passi in the starting XI.
The slight tweak in formation added more attacking prowess to an FC Goa side that was eager to pull clear of the vulnerable playoff spots. It did not take long to see Pena's gamble work as the hosts were in possession of a commanding 3-0 lead after just 23 minutes.
It all began in the 11th minute, when Devendra Murgaonkar slid a through ball into the box from the right towards Noah Sadaoui. Under pressure from Passi, the winger poked it into the path of Guarrotxena, who tucked it in from close range.
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Ten minutes later, Guarrotxena doubled his tally with a spectacular diving header. This time, the attack started from the left flank as Sadaoui whipped a pin-point delivery into the box and Guarrotxena's glancing header bounced off the far post and landed inside the goal.
The Spaniard completed his hat-trick just two minutes later. Brandon Fernandes' corner was headed away from goal by Fares Arnout before Sanson Pereira headed it back into the box. The EBFC defence was caught on the wrong foot as Guarrotxena lifted the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Seven minutes into the second half, Lalchungnunga brought Brandon down near the edge of the box. Edu Bedia and Brandon stood over the free-kick before the latter managed to curl it in at the far post to increase FC Goa's advantage.
The visitors mounted a brief challenge, when an unmarked Suhair VP nodded in Mahesh Singh's cross from close range in the 59th minute and Sarthak Golui brought the deficit down to two in the 66th minute with another header.
But they had left themselves too much to do. At the very end, Redeem Tlang's low strike was palmed onto the post by Kamaljit Singh in the 80th minute, and Mahesh's 87th-minute effort at the other end was slightly wide at the near post as both sides looked for more goals. But the scoreline remained unchanged till the full-time whistle.
FC Goa have moved up into third place, although Kerala Blasters, ATK Mohun Bagan and Odisha FC have two games in hand just below them. Edu Bedia picked up his fourth yellow card of the season and will miss the Gaur's next encounter against Odisha FC on February 6.
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East Bengal FC are quickly running out of time and will take on Kerala Blasters in their next ISL game on February 3.