| East Bengal coach Subhash Bhowmick puts his Brazilian defender Douglas de Silva through the paces Wednesday, the eve of their National League match against Churchill Brothers. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: East Bengal’s campaign in the seventh edition of the National Football League has got off to a smooth start and Churchill Brothers have had exactly the opposite experience so far. The teams meet in a fifth-round match at Salt Lake Stadium Thursday.
Four wins out of four, precious home points these are, but East Bengal still want to play it safe and are trying to put up a cautious face. This, certainly, is the picture in the red-and-gold camp, if coach Subhas Bhowmick’s words are any indication.
The mood in the Churchill ranks is not quite the same, it can’t be, considering the fact that they have collected just three points from four matches. Coach Marcos Pacheco knows his team faces a very stiff task and made no bones about the fact he won’t be too disappointed even with a draw.
Modest ambition, coming from the coach of a team which missed the title by a whisker last season, but times really have changed. While East Bengal have formed a squad with some sort of bench strength, this is precisely the area the Goans are struggling in.
“We have more or less retained last season’s lot, but reinforcements here and there were required. Probably it didn’t happen because our officials were busy with elections back home at the time of the inter-state transfers,” opined Pacheco, who has taken over from T.K. Chathunni this season.
“But things have to change and our position in the NFL right now is perhaps not the right reflection of our ability. We drew two away matches (Indian Bank and Tollygunge Agragami) we should have won but these are early days still. Isn’t it'”
It is, but the momentum is very much with East Bengal, irrespective of the fact that their game has been anything but delightful as yet. No flair, no apparent ability to dominate, but they have notched up four home wins and their strength lies in the posse of reserves they have — in defence and midfield that is and not in the attacking department.
That is why the coach sounded unperturbed at the possibility of missing defensive medio Anit Ghosh and first-choice goalkeeper Sandip Nandy. Both are key players and nursing injuries sustained in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Mohun Bagan.
“I have a lot of replacements and there are so many options. It doesn’t matter who won’t be there,” said Bhowmick, who has been mighty impressed with his new Brazilian forward Gilmar de Silva Goncalves.
“His first touch is just too good and a big plus is his tendency to dribble forward instead of going sideways. Only, he releases the ball too early for our players to understand. He has been told to hold the ball a little more,” noted the coach.
“But by and large, my players have been instructed to play cautiously as one never knows when the odd bad day will come. Hopefully, they have realised that they are mortals. Moreover, it’s a game against a team which is high on pedigree… There is no room for complacency,” Bhowmick added.
His Churchill counterpart said his instruction on his boys is to play their natural game and not go into the match with the primary objective of securing a draw. “You can’t afford to play for draw. We will follow the usual 4-4-2 format and all of our are available.”
All this, generally, was the mood in the rival camps. But going by track record, East Bengal do start firm favourites in Thursday’s game. Their coach may be insisting that even he won’t be disappointed with a draw but a stalemate will come as a big disappointment.
Certainly so, because these are home matches and East Bengal know they can’t afford to drop points in such games.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy/Sangram Mukherjee; Dipak Mondal, Arun Malhotra, Douglas de Silva; Anit Ghosh/Amzad Ansari, Sasthi Duley, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Alvito D’Cunha, S. Venkatesh; Gilmar da Silva Goncalves, Mike Okoro.
Churchill Brothers: Edward Ansah; Osumanu Hussaini, Mahesh Gawli, Rajesh Meetei, Denzil Ferrao; Roque Barreto, Noel Wilson, Ratan Singh, Nascimento Silveira; Yusif Yakubu, Kasig Zamal/Tiken Singh.