Sunil Chhetri regained his lost form to guide reigning champions East Bengal to a 1-0 victory over JCT and almost assured themselves of a semi-final berth in the 30th Federation Cup at the floodlit Vidyasagar Krirangan in Barasat on Saturday.
With the respective wins, East Bengal climbed to the top of Group C standings with six points, while JCT and New Delhi Heroes have three each and an outside chance to qualify for the last-four stage.
East Bengal will next take on Sporting Clube de Goa, while JCT will lock horns with New Delhi Heroes to wrap the Group C matches on Monday.
A loss for East Bengal and a win with a better goal margin for either JCT or New Delhi Heroes may actually cost the holders a place in the knock-out stage.
Having beaten Sporting Clube de Goa quite comfortably last Thursday, JCT were a stark contrast on Saturday as they were over cautious, playing with a defensive frame of mind.
The Stanley Rozario boys, however, were pushing for a goal right from the start, playing as a unit. While Yusif Yakubu and Sunil displayed a fine coordination up front, Jayanta Sen dished out a sparkling show, having his share of chances on more than one occasions.
Abhra Mondal gave his best shot at the goalpost as the East Bengal custodian made couple of splendid saves to negate JCT's odd efforts.
With JCT too much on the backfoot, giving all their effort on strengthening their defence East Bengal found it difficult to score in the first half. Yakubu almost looked to score in the 30th minute but a fine header by Julius Irabor Akpele, who came from nowhere near the goalmouth, saved JCT.
Jayanta showed marked improvement, launching powerful strike into the opponents' camp but the medio fell short on couple of occasions.
After changeover, East Bengal intensified their attack and less than 90 seconds after the break, Sunil and Yakubu combined brilliantly to bring out the winner.
A mid-field move was picked nicely by Sunil who passed it on to Yakubu who waited for the ball to trap.
Having passed it on to Yakubu who became the eventual playmaker, Sunil surged ahead and utilised the pass to the fullest to launch a powerful left-footer which easily deceived JCT goalkeeper Karanjit Singh in the 47th minute