| Ever-Ready goalscorers Eugene Gray (left) and Ernest Jeremiah at the East Bengal ground on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta:Suddenly, the turf is as soggy as what once forced the ASEAN club champions to put their foot down in the Federation Cup. And the horizon pretty queer for the National League champions. Because, with their 2-2 Super Division Championship Leg draw with Ever-Ready on Wednesday, it seems a pretty good possibility that East Bengal could actually be the one to try and ‘qualify’ for the play-off versus Mohun Bagan.
Three matches in succession: Two men out in the match versus Mohun Bagan, and goalless. Then a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Mohammedan Sporting, and this draw. What Mohun Bagan could never manage to do by themselves, East Bengal offered on a platter: a likely superior position for Bagan (32 points from 13 matches against East Bengal’s 35 from 14 matches).
And all this because at least one goal was conceded through sheer callousness of the defence, and more wasted in the over-confidence of the forwards. It also seems strange how the three disastrous outings have followed the departure, through a groin injury, of Alvito D’Cunha. That has been more heartbreaking than the Bhaichung Bhutia absence.
Not that the home team this day was in a wild nadir. They were ahead, twice, and let it all go. And they were missing too, as if it was the routine.
Notes: Seventh minute — Suley Musah shot, Ever-Ready goalkeeper Kalyan Chowbey beaten, Biswarup Bisu saves from goalline. Fourteenth minute: Musah shot at goal, Chowbey misses flight, Tapan Giri boots out at last moment. Thirtieth minute: Bijen Singh’s fine centre, Musah moves up the right and hurriedly bangs into side-netting.
Those were some samples of the domination of the home team, also of the over-confidence that the forward line showed at goalmouth.
In the 41st minute a Chandan Das free-kick from the left was watched carefully by a static Chowbey, watched even as Musah quickly headed in.
Five minutes later Ever-Ready were back in contention as Eugene Gray dodged marker Debjit Ghosh to bend and get his head to a Satyajit Basu free-kick. The ball trickled in, and could have been stopped by a more agile defence.
Problem was in the defence as it was in the attack line. Raman Vijayan isn’t what he once was. Today he is slow and less receptive to quick changes. And Musah, though still very effective, is slowing down as well. In the 62nd minute Vijayan’s centre went to Musah at the goalmouth, but the ease with which Bimal Sarkar tackled it out was commendable for the Ever-Ready defender as it was condemnable for Musah.
Okoro, of late, has been far from his early season form, and since there isn’t any injury worth talking about, there must me more to this forward’s story than meets the eye. A psychological plateau, it seems.
He had his quota of misses, before pulling his team ahead again in the 85th minute, but that was more a Musah offering than his ability to shoot home a clean-cut centre that it was.
That sense of euphoria did not last. Three minutes later Debjit missed a counter-attack attempt and when M. Suresh tried callously to stop, the ball took his shin bone and travelled to Ernest Jeremiah whose shot took the far post before moving in for the equaliser.
The crowd was restive, throwing abuses at East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick and, surprisingly, more at the Ever-Ready line-up. The reason for the latter outburst remained unclear.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Sur Kumar Singh, Mahesh Gawli, M. Suresh, Debjit Ghosh, Shasthi Duley, Dipankar Roy (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 37), Chandan Das (Tushar Rakshit, 59), Suley Musah, Bijen Singh (Raman Vijayan, 46), Mike Okoro.
Ever-Ready: Kalyan Chowbey, Rajib Ahmed, Tapan Giri, Wajed Ali, Bimal Sarkar, Jayanta Sen, Md Rafique (Surojit Chakraborty, 85), Biswarup Bisu, Satyajit Basu, Eugene Gray, Ernest Jeremiah.
Referee: Debashis Mitra.