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Hoptabhor East Bengal (23-30 Jan 2016) | Weekly Summary of East Bengal Football Club Related News By Anirban Mandal

This was a very busy week for the team East Bengal. They played three I-League matches in 8 days. Two of these matches were against heavyweight teams like Mohun Bagan (winner of the previous edition) and Bengaluru FC (Champion of the 2013-14 edition).

East Bengal played against their archrival Mohun Bagan on 23 January at the Yuvabharati Krirangan. It was always going to be East Bengal defenders vs Mohun Bagan attackers, as the latter had formidable strikers like Cornell Glen, Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua in their ranks who were supported by Haitian Sony Norde and Japanese Katsumi in the midfield. On the other hand, EB defense relied heavily on the experience of veteran defenders like Belo Rassaq, Arnab Mondal and Saumik Dey. It was expected that EB would play a counterattacking football with Ranti Martins, Bikash Jairu and Do Dong-hyun keeping the Bagan defenders busy up front. Both teams created very few positive chances in the first half, which ended 0-0. Jairu’s pace created trouble for Bagan defenders, especially Pritam Kotal. EB supporters could not believe their luck when a Dong header went inches wide of the goal towards the end of the first half. In the second half, Do Dong dribbled past Bagan defenders and took a powerful shot from the top of the box which was parried away brilliantly by MB custodian Debjit Majumder. A few minutes later, Ranti put EB ahead after latching on to a Jairu pass and calmly placing it past Debjit. EB could have been up by 2-0 but a brilliant Ranti free kick was saved by Debjit. After this, EB coach Biswajit Bhattacharya brought in Harmanjyot Khabra in place of Abinash Ruidas who had a forgettable evening. Mohun Bagan pressed hard soon after in search for an equalizer. Glen made it 1-1 by heading home from a Sony free kick. Glen could have made it 2-1 towards the end but his header was brilliantly saved by EB goalkeeper Rehenesh TP. In this end, supporters of the both teams felt they should have won the match, and went home ruing the missed opportunities.

Three days later, EB faced the newcomers DSK Shivajians at Barasat stadium on the Republic day. With an experienced coach like Derek Perera and a last defender in veteran Subrata Pal, Shivajians were expected to pose a great deal of resistance. East Bengal players were physically and mentally exhausted from the high-voltage derby three days ago. But Dong came back to his former self on a very familiar ground where he enjoyed his first success on Indian soil in the Calcutta Premier League. On the other hand, the inexperience of Shivajians showed in the field. Despite maintaining the upper hand, East Bengal could score once in the first half when Rafique’s shot rebounded of the goal post and fell in front of Ranti, who embraced the golden opportunity with open arms (or should I say feet?) to become the joint top scorer in the current I-League with Cornell Glen. In the second half, Shivajians played better but could not open their account. Towards the end of the match, East Bengal supporters thanked their luck when a shot from a Shivajian rebounded off Belo, managed to beat Rehenesh but hit the goal post. With a win in their first home match, EB jumped to the second place behind Bengaluru with 8 points from four outings.

Four days later, EB was back in Barasat again. This time to take on the table toppers Bengaluru FC. Bengaluru has been the most consistent team in India for the last three years under the tutelage of Ashley Westwood. However, a loss against Mumbai FC in the Cooperage stadium in their previous match meant Bengaluru would start from behind. East Bengal also boasted a great record having never lost a home game against the Blues. Star striker Sunil Chhetri, who has scored the most goals for India, was always going to be a threat but Bengaluru defense was also a formidable one with the likes of Curtis Osano and John Johnson. EB coach Biswajit Bhattacharya said in the media that he is giving equal importance to all Bengaluru players, not only to Sunil. Injury to Saumik and Robert meant Narayan Das got his first opportunity to play for East Bengal. He provided the much-needed stability in the left back position. Sehnaj was still injured, so Mehtab got another game. After a lot of speculation, star signing Bernard Mendy finally arrived, but was in no position to play any part in this game. Since CS Sabeeth was not available due to an office game, Joaquim was tried beside Ranti.

East Bengal dominated BFC from get go and played a nice passing game with pace, but lacked penetrative power in the attacking third. Ranti had to come down as enough balls were not fed to him. Jairu and Dong were relatively off-color compared to the last game. Joaquim had a forgettable outing, meaning there was very little support for Ranti to take advantage of the crosses coming from both wings. East Bengal attacked lacked planning, coordination and variety. As expected, Bengaluru relied on counter attack and it seemed that they would be happy to share the points. After the first half ended 0-0, coach Biswajit Bhattacharya substituted Samad with Bheke in the right back position. This change backfired. Bheke missed the flight of a ball within the EB box, and Sunil calmly put BFC ahead in the game. After conceding a goal, EB put more pressure on the opposition in search for a goal, but Bengaluru defense, led by Johnson and Osano, thwarted any threats. Jairu missed the best opportunity of the day when he could not keep his shot in the goal. Towards the end, substitute Kevin Lobo got another good opportunity to equalize but his powerful shot from the BFC box went over the goal. A win for BFC meant they stayed at the top of the league table with 12 points from five games, and EB slipped to the 4th position behind Mumbai FC with 8 points from 5 matches.

While the week ended in a low, we have to remember that EB played against two strong contenders in 8 days. We were missing a few key players due to injury and office-engagements. Lobo had just recovered from knee-injury and our 4th foreigner just arrived in town. With Mendy likely to play his first match for the club in our next match against Aizwal FC on February 5th, we are likely to bounce back to our winning ways. There are, however, a few concerns that need immediate attention:

1. There is no support for Ranti up front. We need to play a second striker beside him, and either Sabeeth or Rafique should take up that role. Coach is using Rafique in the midfield to feed ball to Ranti and Dong, but I think he is a much better player up front.

2. Dong cannot be our second striker. This has been proven time after time in the five matches we have played so far. Playing as a striker creates an immense pressure on him to score goals, which has led him to become more selfish. Dong should be allowed to play free.

3. Mendy can play either as a RB or as a CDM. Either way, he will have to be the one making the connection between the attackers and the defenders. With his pace, I believe he is the best player to be the missing link.

4. East Bengal ground needs immediate attention. The hard pitch has been a headache for the coaching staff since many players are getting injured during practicing. Dong was seen practicing with hockey boots to avoid further injury.

Thankfully, our officials have taken notice of the ground condition, and they are in the process of fixing it. Our practices will be conducted on a different ground soon, which will help our players immensely. East Bengal have also decided to organize I-league matches in their home ground from the next season. An overhaul of the ground is needed for that as well. Hopefully, with the help of experienced and reputed people within the country and abroad officials will prepare the best pitch any Indian football club has. EB officials are also looking for one or two extra grounds close by where the team will be able to conduct their practice. In addition, new red and yellow colored bucket seats are replacing the old wooden benches, which will give the East Bengal gallery a new vibrant look.

In related news, East Bengal played two games in the under-18 I-League at the club ground and lost both of them. Salgaocar defeated EB in their first match on 27th January by 2-1 with Tanmoy Ghosh scoring the lone goal for the home team. Liston Colaco scored both goals for Salgaocar. In their second match on the 29th January in the same ground, EB lost to Aizwal FC by 0-2 with Lalrinchhana and Rochharzela scoring for the visitors. So overall, not a great week for the East Bengal supporters who have come out in numbers and cheered for the team, but we can hope that things will only get better from here on.


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