Just like past few seasons, this season again was full of ups and downs for the Lal Holud Brigade. Yet again, three times national football league champions failed to bring the I-League crown to Kolkata. There were a lot of reasons why East Bengal could only garner a third spot after leading the pack for substantial part of the season. On the other hand, the fans had a lot to cheer about as East Bengal did not let their season go sans silverware, bagging the Fed Cup, and adding to that a glorious opportunity of extending their history making dream run in the AFC Cup.
The club made a thumping statement as the season kick started with avenging the disappointment of last season’s loss in the final of the Fed Cup. East Bengal clinched their eighth title by getting the better of defending I-League champions Dempo in Siliguri. The club had announced itself as the promising squad looked hungry for glory under Trevor Morgan.
I-League started with East Bengal quickly cementing their place at the top. After an opening day disappointing draw against Sporting Club, the Red-&-Golds mustered up seven wins out of their opening nine fixtures, which included some crucial and vital away wins such as against United Sikkim and Churchill Brothers. Then came along the big derby which left a black spot on the most awaited football fixture in the country. After arch rivals Mohun Bagan refused to take the field post the lemon break, pinning their decision on bad refereeing and security of their players, East Bengal were awarded all three points.
As if this incident had dented their confidence, the side lost their next two matches against rejuvenated Prayag United and an impressive Mumbai FC side. Trevor Morgan mentored side received another blow to their title challenge as they were undone in Delhi by a tactically sound ONGC side. The problem of Indian strikers in the squad not rising up to the expectations was clearly visible in this and many of the matches during the course of the season.
East Bengal still managed to top the table despite a home loss to Churchill brothers in as the New Year turned on the league. It was the draw against a relegation threatened Mohun Bagan which started a downfall in terms of I-League challenge for the Kolkata club. East Bengal drew an astonishing six games over the course of three months i.e March, April and May. This saw the club slip from the summit of the table to the podium places. The congestion of fixtures took its toll as AFC Cup and Sahara Calcutta Football League matches started to come in thick and fast for the Bengal side.
East Bengal finally finished the season at the third place, a place lower than their last two performances. Although it was something which could not have been gulped in easily by the fans, the club’s history re-writing performance in the AFC Cup has been nothing less than a sensation in the Indian Football scene.
East Bengal topped their group in the AFC group stages as the Indian side cruised through the group stages without a hitch. Winning four out of their six matches, the Kolkata side faced Yangon united in the pre-quarter finals at the YBK. Both the sides had made merry in the group stages and this match was tipped to be won by the visitors, but East Bengal had different plans as master tactician Morgan got his team raring to go. East Bengal routed the Myanmar side slotting five goals and made history as they became the first Indian side to book a slot in last eight draw. East Bengal awaits their opponents now as they gear up to lock horns in September for a place in last four.
East Bengal tasted more success as they were crowned champions of Kolkata, often referred as Mecca of football in India. After a new format was introduced this year, East Bengal finished their local season at the top of the CFL table with a cent percent record. Trevor Morgan’s side won all of their matches including the title clinching derby against Mohun Bagan. The Lal-Holud brigade hit the back of the net a massive twenty nine times en route to bag the 114th edition of Calcutta football league.
The season has ended for most of the clubs, but East Bengal fans have their eyes set on the AFC Cup draw which would be held on 20th June. Two major trophies, a historic AFC Cup, which could still be much better, still the fans were disappointed on the third place finish. Such are the expectations from the club. With Trevor Morgan gone, and East Bengal till now managing to hold on to their keep foreign players, next season could bring more interesting times at the club.
Harmanjot Singh Khabra:
The former JCT lad had an outstanding season with the Red-&-Golds, showcasing his prowess in different situations. He was used as an attacking midfielder, defensive holding mid and as a right back by Trevor in some of the tactically important matches. Khabra scored the all-important goal in the tainted derby and stepped up whenever his team needed him the most. Such has been the influence that the Punjab lad could be seen as the vice captain of the club next season.
Most Disappointing player of the season:
Robin Singh, when signed by East Bengal promised a lot. He was cited as the next big thing in Indian football, as India tried to fill the void left by Baichung. But as things stand now, the lanky lad from Noida has just finished one of the worst season he would like to put behind his back. After some noticeable performances last year, he deserved a controversial call up to the national team, but just like his performance in the Nehru Cup, his East Bengal performances were a culmination of wrong attitude, irregular and late practice turn ups, bans and a flurry of missed chances in front of the goal.
When this Nigerian was signed by the East Bengal side, they knew exactly what they were doing, and the result is in front of everyone to see. Chidi has been among goals- true, but it is his off the ball running skills and assists that have been hurting a lot of teams, including continental.
The former JCT number six joined the Kolkata giants in 2010 and over the years has paved his way into the first team. With the signing of Andrew Barisic and Chidi Edeh last year, Baljit Sahni was used very shrewdly in the Calcutta Football league by Morgan. The striker from Punjab grabbed the opportunity and bagged the highest scorer in this year’s edition with six goals against his name. With Robin Singh and Manandeep Singh struggling to find feet, Baljit’s presence meant that Morgan could rest his key foreign strikers for equally vital AFC and I-league matches.
The Nigerian has been a phenom in the East Bengal Mid field this season. Be it making attacking runs into the box, or helping out the defenders, Penn Orji was everywhere. Adding to that, the sturdy lad scored and set up some very crucial goals this season, especially in the AFC Cup.
It would be biblical sin if the most consistent footballer in India is denied an honourable mention in the players who played out of their skins for East Bengal this season. Such was the impact of Mehtab ‘Double Cylinder’ Hossain, that he became an eminent choice in India’s starting eleven last year. Mehtab’s ability to track opponent teams’ playmakers and orchestrate moves has been up on display for everyone to see and notice.
East Bengal 5-1 Yangon United
There were many matches which attested the fact that there was something right about East Bengal’s squad this season, but the match which stood out and induced a huge round of applause from not only their fans but left a mark at the continental level was the side’s thrashing of Yangon United in the AFC Cup quarter finals at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan. History books were rewritten and a classy statement made. East Bengal never let the prolific side settle as they got the lead inside two minutes and then built on to get an unassailable lead inside the first half. It was a cracking display of counter attacks and tactical brilliance by the Kolkata side which left the side from Myanmar stunned.
ONGC 1-0 East Bengal
Although the IFA shield final loss would have been a close contestant for one of the worst matches of the season for the Lal Holud brigade, the away loss to ONGC was the one which left the whole squad disheartened and let Churchill brothers take a firm grip at the top of the table. East Bengal had fought back after back to back losses against Prayag United and Mumbai FC, with two consecutive wins against Arrows and Salgaocar, hitting the back of the net seven times. With their tails up, the Kolkata locked horns against Santosh Kashyap’s ONGC at the Ambedkar stadium, Delhi. But the tactical masterpiece from Kashyap saw East Bengal struggling for chances, and whatever chances came their way, were muffed by Robin Singh, Chidi and Manandeep.
Another match which dented the East Bengal title hopes was against Sporting Club at home which ended in a 1-1 draw. The last match of the campaign saw East Bengal register their fifth loss of the season, again due to striking vows upfront, when Chidi and Andrew were rested citing the AFC pre – quarter final match.