5 Talking Points: Prayag United 2-2 East Bengal
1. Mental fatigue catching up with East Bengal again
Sportskeeda had discussed how it would be physically very difficult for East Bengal in the final weeks of the I-League because of their heavy involvement in various cup competitions. Now, mental fatigue is also starting to hurt them. Under Trevor Morgan, East Bengal have won six major trophies but the I-League has eluded them in the last two seasons and Friday’s draw with Prayag could extend their wait for another year. Two seasons back, East Bengal threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 against Salgaocar, a result which proved to be decisive. On Friday, they threw away another two-goal advantage, this time drawing 2-2. While most supporters would blame young Gurpreet Singh Sandhu for his howler that brought Prayag back into the game, one must not forget that the whole team buckled under pressure at 2-1 and allowed Carlos Hernandez too much space to set up Ranti Martins for the equaliser. Morgan’s side did find a response after weathering a Prayag storm that threatened to take all three points but they continued to make some basic errors with the final ball and eventually had to settle for a point. With no wins in their last five matches in 90 minutes, East Bengal have lost form at the wrong stage once again and the throwing away of leads against Air India and Prayag United questions the mentality of their squad to get over the finishing line of a title race.
2. Penn Orji’s poor season continues
Much of the success that Trevor Morgan enjoyed in his first two seasons has been down to Nigerian playmaker Penn Orji, but this season, the former JCT man has been a shadow of the player that used to East Bengal’s best creative force. The Nigerian possibly was a bit complacent at the start of the season as East Bengal didn’t have any fourth foreigner, which meant that his place in the starting eleven was never under threat. So even though Penn was off colour in the Federation Cup and at the start of the I-League campaign, Morgan couldn’t afford to drop him often as the only alternative he had was an inexperienced Cavin Lobo. The presence of Andrew Barisic has provided competition for Penn in the second half of the season but he has been unable to regain his form. Penn’s shooting has been poor all season and his final ball has consistently lacked quality. That was the case in the Prayag game also as Penn once again failed to provide any inspiration to the red-and-gold brigade, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him get replaced in the final stages when East Bengal needed a winner. Penn Orji has been poor this campaign and Friday’s performance wouldn’t give the East Bengal faithful any hope of a turnaround.
3. Ishfaq Ahmed could be vital for East Bengal’s run-in
While the result against Prayag United will be a massive blow to East Bengal’s title hopes, the performance wasn’t that bad overall and one player in particular was highly impressive. That player was in fact Ishfaq Ahmed who won the penalty that led to the second goal and was desperately unlucky not to win the game for East Bengal late on as his delightful chip went agonizingly wide. That chance came after a superb run from one flank to another and the overall display of the Kashmiri reminded everyone of the form he was showing in the 2008-09 I-League, when he was one of the best wide midfielders in the country. Ishfaq had been out of the team due to a bit of rotation and AFC Cup suspension but this little breather seems to have rejuvenated the former Mohun Bagan captain as he showed plenty of energy throughout the match despite the hot and humid conditions. Ishfaq’s work rate and willingness to defend for the team has been evident throughout the season but on Friday he rediscovered his qualities as an attacking player. His return to form would be a massive positive for Morgan and the English coach would hope to see the 30-year-old maintain this level for the final four league matches.
4. Ranti Martins is still the most clinical striker in Indian football
By his standards, the top scorer of the last two seasons of the I-League hasn’t been at his best in the second half of this season but Ranti Martins once again delivered the goods when his team needed him the most. Ranti reached the 30-goal mark in each of the last two seasons but could fail to do so this term as he is on 23 with only four matches remaining, but Friday’s game reminded everyone why he remains the best finisher. East Bengal’s Edeh Chidi has been the most in-form striker in the I-League since the turn of the year and with 16 goals he has certainly done a great job for the red-and-golds. However Chidi’s conversation rate remains inferior to that of Ranti, who may have a quiet game but like most great goal scorers he will convert any clear cut chance that comes his way. On Friday, we saw another such example as Ranti was hardly in the game until Carlos found him with a lovely through ball in the 65th minute and the former Dempo man finished clinically. It was vintage Ranti and it was the third time this season that he netted a decisive goal against East Bengal following the strikes in the 1-0 win in the I-League and most recently in the IFA Shield final.
5. Prayag United remains East Bengal’s bogey team in the I-League
In recent seasons, Raghu Nandy’s Aryan side have been East Bengal’s bogey team in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) but in the I-League it has been Prayag United. The purple shirts have taken four points off East Bengal in the last two seasons with Trevor Morgan managing just one win in six I-League matches against them. In 2010-11, it was Subrata Bhattacharya’s defensive tactics, in 2011-12 Sanjoy Sen had the last laugh over two games and this season Dutchman Eelco Schattorie has continued the trend, thanks to a few tactical tweaks that stopped East Bengal from playing their natural game in the first encounter and on Friday a bit of lady luck was in favour of Prayag. With East Bengal and Mohun Bagan being the traditional ‘Big Two’ of Kolkata, Prayag United seem to raise their game every time they face the two giants and that has certainly hurt East Bengal more, as they have been challenging for the title ever since Morgan’s arrival in 2010. East Bengal could still end up with the title as there is still a lot of football to be played between now and May 12th, but if they fail to get the trophy that they crave for the most, the red-and-gold brigade would look back to the fact that they only managed one point against Prayag United for the second straight season.