| Bhaichung Bhutia scores East Bengal's first goal via a spot-kick on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Experimentation is the name of the game for East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) Super Division.
It is just the beginning of a long, tiring season. Bhowmick has made no bones about the fact that it is time to explore a number of options to create the same bench strength that saw him through to an unprecedented five trophies last season.
If Monday’s Super Division match versus West Bengal Police needed to be interpreted in such a perspective, East Bengal seemed to be still in germination. The second match en route to their title-defence saw the red-and-gold brigade rise to their billing only occasionally, but the faster a few grey areas are sorted out the better for the coach and his team.
Against the policemen, they looked manly in phases. But that was enough to carry them through 3-0, including a controversial penalty, and overshadowed their occasional behaviour as spoiled children in the danger area. Alvito D’Cunha struck the other two. But despite the margin, the furrows on Bhowmick’s forehead was hardly missing.
East Bengal started with a 4-4-2 formation, with Surkumar Singh moving up from his right-back position, making it look like a tried and tested 3-5-2. Captain Suley Musah, looked awkward as a left half, exposing himself too often by way of shooting with his right foot, while an off-colour Raman Vijayan partnered Bhaichung Bhutia upfront.
East Bengal drew the first blood in the 15th minute, from a situation where Bhaichung’s apparent simulation completely eclipsed goalkeeper Nani Gopal Majumdar’s brilliant attempt to stop a 50-50 ball. Bhaichung made no mistake converting the spot-kick.
However, till Alvito D’Cunha arrived as a 28th-minute substitute for Vijayan, East Bengal looked like a cauldron of hypes and hopes.
The Goan player started from where he seemed to have left last season, his second touch opening up a clear-cut chance for a goal in the 31st minute. Shasthi Duley’s free-kick, after Alvito was fouled near the rivals’ halfline, found Debjit Ghosh free inside the box. But as Nani Gopal managed to save it, Bhaichung’s return header from close came off the inside of the crossbar and the danger was finally cleared for a corner.
This followed a nasty challenge of Dipak Mondal on Nani Gopal and the East Bengal central defender was lucky to escape with a mere yellow card. The Police custodian had to be treated on field and returned to action with a bandage on his nose.
The second goal, four minutes later, was a welcome relief from this chaos. Bhaichung controlled a Surkumar header in the midfield and promptly set up a through for Shylo Malsawmtluanga on the right. The diminutive mid-fielder’s minus was so perfect that Alvito had a world of space to tap in.
Alvito’s second and East Bengal’s third strike, just a minute from the final whistle, was a result of another such delectable move. This time Musah released a ball for advancing Mahesh Gawli on the touchline and Dipak’s India partner found Alvito inside the six-yard box, his little chip going in over goalkeeper’s head.
A number of chances fell East Bengal’s way, with Malsawmtluanga, Alvito and Musah failing to beat an outstanding Nani Gopal from one-to-one position.
As East Bengal went for more adventures, veteran Police striker Naru Gopal Ghosh chanced upon a couple of opportunities in the later stage of the match, but timely caution shown by Gawli ensured his team did not concede a goal.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee; Surkumar Singh (Dipankar Roy, 59), Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, M. Suresh; Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Debjit Ghosh (Chandan Das, 81), Shasthi Duley, Suley Musah; Raman Vijayan (Alvito D’Cunha, 28), Bhaichung Bhutia.
WB Police: Nani Gopal Majumdar; Nakul Burman (Tapas Chatterjee, 38), Subrata Das, Sujay Bhaduri, Sandip Biswas; Arindam Sarkar, Ujjwal Kumar Samanta, Jayanta Roy (Sankar Sil, 38), Samir Das (Sarbashish Kundu, 74); Naru Gopal Ghosh, Mrityunjoy Patra.
Referee: Ashish Chakraborty.