| Eastern Railway goalkeeper Kaushik Paul brings off one of his excellent saves against East Bengal in their IFA Shield group A match at the Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri on Saturday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri, Sept. 20: Exactly what the doctor didn’t prescribe. It doesn’t do much justice to the best team in the country to stumble through a dozen misses and claim a home run just because Bijen Singh had slotted right in the eighth minute. The national champions’ opening match of the 109th Chlor-Mint IFA Shield at the Kanchenjungha Stadium here Saturday failed to impress anybody, least coach Subhas Bhowmick.
It was what the red-golds had feared. They were pretty sure of victory, per se, but were fumbling at the goalomuth, flummoxed by the host of opportunities that paraded around. A striker duo (Dipankar Roy and Bijen), followed up, ahead of three midfielders, by Suley Musah (a compromise, it seemed, from pushing him down to defence and from keeping him as striker), and a plan to have the wings working.
To the viewer, the first half offered good pace and passing, but the ground was deteriorating fast and Musah ended up with load levels far exceeding what he would have taken as striker. Douglas da Silva was the pivot in the midfield, as Sasthi Duley had an off day, sort of. Only Shylo Malswamtluanga was the other mover there. They fed the forward line okay, but Dipankar Roy was a faded entry and Bijen had to snatch initiatives. Debjit, a pity, stayed back in defence.
All this while Eastern Railway, following some early adventure, pushed a seven-man defence initiative instead. To that extent, the best show was by their goalkeeper Kaushik Paul, a local lad (from the Lake Town area, near New Jalpaiguri). But for him, East Bengal would have won by at least three more goals.
In the eighth minute, Malswamtluanga sprinted up the right, pretty much unchallenged, pushing into the attacking third before forward-passing to Musah. Musah dodged a defender and centred across the goalline as Bijen moved in quickly to tap home from close.
It was a neat set-piece effort, something that East Bengal failed to repeat. The crowd, already unhappy in the absence of Bhaichung Bhutia and Mike Okoro, was vociferous against the insipid show.
Henry Odogo generally proved to be more of an embarrassment for his team Eastern Railway than cause any to East Bengal — he is powerful, but slow and has little by way of ball skills. Yet, in the 14th minute, he and Saikat Mondol had almost restored parity had ’keeper Sangram Mukherjee not interfered in time.
It showcased the hollowness of the East Bengal defence, kept much in the shade with a strong forward line presence.
The Eastern Railway goalkeeper’s good line of saves started with an excellent one off a Douglas header in the 35th minute, before he sent back a powerful volley from Sasthi ten minutes later. If not in East Bengal’s attack, the thin crowd expressed its joy in applauding Kaushik.
Bijen had missed one more, early in the second half and coach Bhowmick pulled out Dipankar, introducing K. Kulothungan instead. The pace increased a bit, but Kulothungan, too has, this habit of letting go good chances. In the 66th minute Malswamtluanga centred to the goalmouth, and even with goalkeeper Kaushik out of position, Kulothungan messed it all up when he arrived at the scene too late.
Underfoot conditions were becoming heavier by the minute, as the grass cover at different parts gave away. And Musah was slowing down, obviously the effect of that extra load in the first half. The load was transferred to Douglas, as Musah started falling back, but the overall balance looked a bit skewed.
East Bengal came close to conceding that equaliser in the 69th minute when Abhijit Majumdar of Eastern Railway headed goalwards off a sudden East Bengal goalmouth melee. Goalkeeper Sangram was out of bounds and it was a last-minute header from the line by Dipak Mondal that saved the day for the ASEAN club champion titlists.
Coach Bhowmick later said he was “thoroughly disappointed with the show”. “You cannot expect any better if you miss so many,” he said.
“My forwards have to understand, that it will not always be the Bhaichungs and the Okoros who will have all the responsibility of scoring. They must understand that they will have to deliver or move out.” Though he refused to name anybody, it was a clear warning to the Dipankar Roys of the team.
Bhowmick also praised Kaushik for his efforts. “That boy came in between a number of our goals. He was excellent,” said Bhowmick.
He did blame the underfoot conditions, but said it was way better that “what we have in Calcutta. So we can’t really complain.”
Eastern Railway coach Shankar Maitra said his boys did miss a couple of chances. “Had we been able to score the equaliser early, it could have been a different story today.”
So far, in Group A, East Bengal and Eastern Railway have won one each. East Bengal need their victory over Wari AC Monday to go through.
That should not be a difficult ask.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Mahesh Gawli, Dipak Mondal, Debjit Ghosh, Sasthi Duley, Shylo Malswamtluanga, Douglas da Silva, Suley Musah, Dipankar Roy (K. Kulothungan, 55), Bijen Singh (Chandan Das, 79).
Eastern Railway: Kaushik Paul, Abhijit Mondal, Santanu Bit, S. Dutta Banik, Nilanjan Guha, Debdas Sen (M. Chakraborty, 32), Sanjib Santra (B. Adhikary, 63; Archisman Biswas, 67), Kuntal Biswas, Saikat Mondal, Henry Odogo, Monojit Sarkar.
Referee: Arup Chakraborty.