After a superb start to the season, East Bengal’s quest for their fifth title took a serious stumble after they were hammered 3-0 by Churchill Brothers in their own den on Saturday. After being unbeaten in their first ten matches of the I-League this season, the Red and Golds have suffered four losses in their last seven games. The 0-3 drubbing at the hands of Churchill Brothers, who are now looking favorites for the title, prompted some harsh words from coach Trevor Morgan at the end of the match. Henri Antchouet scored his 8th and 9th goals of the season and gave Churchill a 2-0 lead inside the first half after two defensive lapses from the East Bengal defenders.
Lebanese striker Akram Moghrabi then made it 3-0 for the visitors in the 82nd minute after connecting his head to a bouncing ball and looping it over the keeper. It was a forgettable day for the home side that failed to create any notable chances and looked severely off colour.
Many of East Bengal’s problems this season has been the over-reliance on their foreigners Uga Okpara, Penn Orji and Edeh Chidi. Chidi has scored 11 out of East Bengal’s 25 goals this season and when he fails, the Red and Gold’s usually don’t find the target. Teams this season have also found a way of stopping the Chidi juggernaut through other means. Man marking Penn Orji and shutting him out of the game has meant that the supply to Chidi has been plugged, often forcing the Nigerian sharpshooter to fall back to midfield to collect the ball. Off late defensive minded teams like Mumbai FC and ONGC have often deployed two players to mark out Penn Orji thereby cutting short the passes from him to Chidi.
East Bengal’s next highest goal getter has been Robin Singh with a measly 3 goals this season. Midfielders Lalrindka Ralte and Harmanjhot Khabra have also scored three goals each this season which goes to show East Bengal’s lack of a second support striker and their over-reliance on Chidi. Mehtab Hossain also has failed to reproduce the form of last season that earned him an Indian team call up while the rest of the midfield has been chopped and changed frequently due to some inconsistent performances from the wingers. Though the East Bengal defense is currently the best in the League having conceded only 9 goals, it has been largely due to the performance of Okpara and they have struggled at times without him. Recently, even Okpara’s form has dipped and as a result East Bengal defence has looked vulnerable.
The Red and Gold’s are now already seven points behind Churchill Brothers and have played a game more. A victory for Churchill in their next match could see them go a massive ten points behind the leaders with only ten rounds left in the season. Certainly this looks a very difficult task for Trevor Morgan’s men. They also have the added burden of the AFC Cup to contend with, which will surely leave their players more fatigued.
Dempo Sports Club moved up to third in the table, seven points adrift of the top and level on points with East Bengal, though with a game in hand, after they handed out a 7-0 thrashing to United Sikkim in their first I-League match at the refurbished Duler Stadium in Mapusa. Koko Sakibo scored a hat trick; Clifford Miranda scored a brace while Joaquim Abraches and substitute Joy Ferrao scored a goal each for the defending champions. Such was the domination of the home side that the score could have reached double digits had it not been for the profligacy in front of goal by Koko.
Prayag United’s three game winning streak was brought to a halt by Mumbai FC after Eelco Schattorie’s men lost 1-2 at the Balewadi Sports Complex. Prayag looked on course for another comeback win after C.K Vineeth cancelled out Gabriel Fernandes’ opener for the home side. However just three minutes after getting back on level terms, the hero of their last game, Bello Rasaq conceded an own goal to condemn Prayag to an away defeat. Prabir Das’ goal gave Pailan Arrows a 1-0 win over Shillong Lajong and moved them to 8th position in the League table. The defeat for Lajong though meant that they moved closer to the relegation zone.
Pune FC missed a host of chances settling for a goalless draw against a ten men Sporting Clube de Goa at Pune. The game saw a number of Sporting players indulging in time wasting tactics by repeatedly falling to the ground. Former Sporting player James Moga spurned a golden chance to score against his former club deep into injury time when he shot wide from handshaking distance.
The most contentious game of the day saw a once pronounced guilty and then pronounced innocent Mohun Bagan play their first math in the League after their ban against Salgaocar Football Club in Goa. The match saw Karim Bencherifa square up against the club he quit midway after being lured by the wealth of Kolkata. There was plenty of off field drama before the game after a Salgaocar official reportedly got incensed that Karim allegedly tried to call up some Salgaocar players before the game. The Mariners also shot a letter to Salgaocar asking for extra security as the players and officials felt insecure.
The match though failed to live up to its billing as Salgaocar easily rolled past the Mariners winning 2-0 through goals from their debutants Joshimar Da Silva Martins and OJ Obatola. Bagan were without their start striker Odafa who has been banned for three games while fit again Tolgay Ozbay and Syed Rahim Nabi failed to make much impact.