The Telegraph
Saturday , April 19 , 2014
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A tall order for East Bengal

James Moga

Calcutta: At times, it has been quite puzzling. Who are East Bengal fighting for the I-League title? Are they Bengaluru FC and Salgaocar FC? Or is it mathematics, because for quite some time now, the common observation has been that mathematically, East Bengal are still in the run for glory.

East Bengal will face Pune FC at the Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune, on Saturday. It will be their 23rd match of the league, also their penultimate one. They are on 37 points after playing 22 games.

Bengaluru have played the same number of matches and are leading the table with 41 points. Salgaocar have 38 points having played a match more.

If Bengaluru win their remaining two matches, no victory will be enough for Armando Colaco’s men. But Bengaluru’s last two matches are both away fixtures, in Goa, and so all East Bengal fans can be optimistic to think that victory isn’t guaranteed.

But even if Bengaluru lose both the matches, East Bengal will have to win theirs to dream of title triumph. Is Saturday’s match in Pune then a must-win tie for them? And here in comes Mr Mathematics again, because East Bengal, mathematically, will stay alive even with a draw.

They will then have 38 points and with a victory in the last game can equal Bengaluru on 41, provided of course that the I-League debutants lose their last two matches.

However, to be practical, you have to shun mathematics and say that East Bengal have to win in Pune. In the business end of the league, that’s the safest way to be positive. A draw might not be the end of the road, but a win is a win. Of course, if they lose, East Bengal’s 2013-14 I-League hopes will vapourise.

East Bengal’s form has been inconsistent throughout the season. If they were in top form in one match, they were abysmally bad in the very next. The red-and-gold brigade were on a high after winning three matches on the trot before losing against Churchill Brothers in their last encounter.

“It’s (inconsistency) something we could not get out of… That was the reason why we could not get success despite having such a crack outfit,” stand-in captain Harmanjyot Singh Khabra said.

Harmanjyot, for the record, will not play Saturday’s match against Pune FC after being sent off for a second bookable offence against Churchill Brothers.

On paper, East Bengal do look to be the favourites on Saturday. Edeh Chidi and Lalrindika Ralte were the East Bengal goal scorers during their last game against Pune FC.

Return of South Sudanese striker James Moga will add to East Bengal’s strengths. Moga could be the man who could make the difference as he is a former Pune FC player, well accustomed with the ground.

Also players like Raju Gaikwad, Abhishek Das, and Robert Lalthlamuana will be expected to play attacking football.

Pune FC, on the other hand, will hope to climb back into the top five in the table. They haven’t beaten East Bengal in the last five face-offs, but coach Mike Snoei would like to end the campaign on a high, given that the season’s last AFC Cup tie, against Kitchee FC of Hong Kong, is only three days away.