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EB ahead in the battle of equals
- Yakubu’s skill, Sueoka’s pace and Ekene’s raw strength will test Morgan’s defence
East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan with Tolgay Ozebe, on Tuesday
Salgaocar coach Karim Bencharifa discusses a point with Ruiji Sueoka. Telegraph pictures

Calcutta: Salgaocar SC have been cavalier in their approach to the I-League this season, and, even though they are leaders on goal difference despite being at par with East Bengal on points, the Karim Bencharifa-coached side will agree that their real test will be on Wednesday, against the red and gold brigade.

Having scored thirteen goals, courtesy a couple of big victories — 3-0 against Viva Kerala and 5-0 against AIFF XI — the Goan outfit have demolished every team on their way this far. They are yet to drop a point, and certainly under coach Bencharifa, Salgaocar have started nurturing dreams of a pole finish.

And that won’t be a problem if they keep meeting sides who roll over as easily as the AIFF XI did. But East Bengal are a tough nut to crack and the fact that the hosts are yet to concede a goal in the tournament would give the visitors some food for thought.

Bencharifa survived a scare in their 4-3 win in a thriller against Chirag United. That was a warning that not every team will provide an easy passage and East Bengal, who are on a roll this season, might just halt Bencharifa’s unbeaten run. Add the fact that East Bengal won the last time the two teams met, in a Durand Cup fixture, and one knows why Trevor Morgan’s side will enjoy an upperhand.

Barring Gurwinder Singh, who will have to sit out due to a double booking, the red and gold brigade remains unchanged. Sunil Kumar will replace the full back. Morgan’s men have maintained a clean chit in the tournament largely owing to Uga Okpara’s talismanic show in the back line.

Penn Orji, whose manifestations in the mid-field can take any team by surprise, will probably play just behind the forward line of Tolgay Ozebe and Robin Singh. Sanju Pradhan’s powerful runs frequently dissects the rival defence and the East Bengal mid-fielder will play a vital role in opening up chances for the hosts on Wednesday.

Morgan’s pride has been the East Bengal defence, which has looked impregnable so far. But the likes of Yusif Yakubu, Ruiji Sueoka and Ekene Ikenwa are a challenge to the home side. Yakubu’s years of toil on Indian grounds makes him one of the wiliest foreign strikers whose malleability is a nightmare for opponent teams. Add to it Sueoka’s pace and Ekene’s strength that makes the Salgaocar trio a lethal combination up front.

“We have been solid at the back. We were tested against Dempo but we did well there. We’ll be tested again tomorrow (Wednesday), but I am sure we have the strength to stop them,” Morgan said on Tuesday.

The Briton refused to be threatened by any individual player but said Sueoka is “nippy” and can hurry-up any defence. “They are a good side and have started very well. I have seen Sueoka play. He’s nippy,” Morgan added.

Salgaocar are a team that bank on speed and exuberance. East Bengal have moved on without hitting top gear. Now is the time to show some need for speed.

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