| East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick explains strategy to Suley Musah (left) and Bijen Singh at the club ground on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Not often does one see a team starting a match under pressure after having won the last one by a 9-0 margin. Not often does one suspect East Bengal to be a bit jittery ahead of a match against a team like Ever-Ready — mere newcomers in the big league of Maidan football.
This game, somehow, is a leveller too, and that’s why the ASEAN Club Cup champions can’t breath easy before Friday’s Chlor-Mint IFA Shield semi-final against the upstarts of Ever-Ready — a team which probably couldn’t even spend one-tenth of what East Bengal did in recruiting players.
Problem one for East Bengal is that a handful of first-choice players are unavailable either because of injury or illness. Problem two is the track record against Ever-Ready which shows a difficult 2-1 win and a 2-2 draw in the local league. Problem three, and perhaps the most problematic, is one Ernest Jeremiah Chukwomaka.
This Nigerian has played ten games for Ever-Ready and scored as many as ten goals. Added to that, he has this ability to lead the attack with a fair amount of game-making skills. Quite a handy package that is and Jeremiah has pierced the vaunted East Bengal defence in the past.
For East Bengal and coach Subhas Bhowmick, this must be the principal concern apart from the fact that two of his reliable defenders — Mahesh Gawli and Debjit Ghosh — are out with throat infection and muscle tear, respectively. An indisposed M. Suresh skipped training on Thursday which means Bhowmick will be hard put to field the set of defenders or midfield spoilers he prefers.
Under these circumstances, he should be relying heavily on foreigners Douglas da Silva and Suley Musah. The former has often been a gigantic figure in the midfield, primarily as blocker, and will have to play a key role again in order to take his team to the final after a series of disappointing outings in the city of late.
Indications are that Musah, the other foreigner and skipper, will have a different role. In absence of Bhaichung Bhutia and Alvito D’Cunha, there is a strong chance that the Ghanaian will partner Bijen Singh upfront. It’s another matter that with a Jeremiah lurking around the penalty area, moving Musah up may be a risky gamble.
Bhowmick said any semi-final match has to be taken seriously, adding that he knows Ever-Ready can sting. The players, though, refused to accept that East Bengal are under pressure.
“We do lack a positive striker, but still converted most of the chances that came our way in the last game,” said a senior player. That, in fact, should be the mood in the East Bengal camp. Most local teams would have been happy to recruit the players who normally warm the East Bengal bench and the wide range of options would surely delight any other coach.
Pressure and adversities notwithstanding, Bhowmick’s boys will have to curse themselves in case there is an upset on Friday.
Ever-Ready coach Amal Dutta, attending training sessions but not taking active part following heart surgery, has been telling his boys that no team is unbeatable and there is no reason to be afraid of East Bengal. His wards, however, know that Friday’s task is much tougher than the one against Mohammedan Sporting whom they beat 3-1.
Problems are there, but East Bengal appear to have the know-how on finding the solutions. Ever-Ready should be ready to counter this. East Bengal under pressure has always been a dangerous proposition.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Dipak Mondal, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Sur Kumar Singh; Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Douglas da Silva, Sasthi Duley, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Dipankar Roy; Suley Musah, Bijen Singh.
Ever-Ready: Kalyan Chowbey; Rajib Ahmed, Surajit Chakraborty, Wajed Ali, Bimal Sarkar; Jayanta Sen, Dulal Biswas, Mohammed Rafique, Sujit Ghosh; Eugene Gray, Ernest Jeremiah.