BY ATANU MITRA (Follow @Atanu00 on Twitter)
It had been a tumultuous week for Trevor James Morgan and his team, to say the least. They had gone down against Aizawl FC, a result that brought to a halt their nine-match unbeaten run in the competition. The salt was rubbed to the injury when Kalyan Majumder, the club secretary, expressed his views in his usual no-holds-barred manner.
“We don’t have any chance to win the I-League,” he told Sangbad Pratidin in a conversation, which was ironically going on at the Mohun Bagan tent. “I had told a friend yesterday that we would lose to Aizawl. It’s the failure of the coach to motivate the players,” he concluded.
The world around The Red and Golds’ coach had started to come crashing down. A defeat against defending champions Bengaluru FC would have resulted in all hell breaking loose and with key players Willis Plaza and Lalrindika Ralte missing, the former Kerala Blasters assistant coach had his hands full.
How his team responded to this litmus test has to be one of the highest points of Morgan’s coaching career in India, during which he has won nine trophies with the Kolkata club. It was not only a test of tactics against the Ieague’s most high-profile coach but also a test of character for a club that has not won this piece of silverware for 12 years.
The men in Red and Gold passed both with flying colours. With their first win in four matches, the 97-year old club reclaimed their berth at the top of the table while Albert Roca’s frantic tactical change to counter East Bengal’s onslaught was a testament to Morgan’s shrewd planning for the big fixture.
Not only did he prove his mettle once again, he also decided to take matters into his own hands. There was criticism even inside the club ranks about using both Mehtab Hossain and Rowllin Borges, given they are not that adept in creating moves from the back. East Bengal had failed to win two of the three matches where they had started together including the recent drubbing at Aizawl where they were criminally lackluster.
However, the duo started together again, and it paid dividends as East Bengal were not outnumbered against the Blues who lined up in a 3-4-1-2. Sunil Chhetri, who was dropping in the hole, was marked heavily by his former team-mate Mehtab, while Borges had to run to both flanks to provide additional cover to the full-backs.
“We had the same preparation against Aizawl FC but not this kind of a performance. Players were excited to play today as the surface and the atmosphere was perfect for the game,” the former Hull City Reserve team coach remarked in the post-match press conference.
It was a show of intent where the team fought with vigour even as their limitations became prominent time and again. Wedson Anselme, who had received a lot of flak for his unwillingness to release the ball early, was rewarded for his trickery as he scored a stunner in the first half to break the deadlock. Bengaluru had rightly identified East Bengal’s potential vulnerabilities but as the match went on, it was evident that Morgan also had done his home-work.
Udanta Singh began terrifying Ivan Bukenya with his raw pace, trying to barge into the box past the Ugandan defender whose only weak point has been his lack of speed. Fluid one-two’s near the flanks helped them open up space with both full-backs Robert and Robin Gurung getting caught out of position.
However, the midfield grew into the game with Wedson’s ability to take on players being the biggest boon for the travellers. Chris Payne remained anonymous for the whole match, except for a terrible miss from close range and then teeing up Robin Singh for his third goal. Robin, on the other hand, emerged as the hero before a set of fans who used to call him their own Batman. His prowess in playing as the number nine was again evident as he won aerial duels against the well-built Sandesh Jhingan and Juanan besides getting the better of Sena Ralte during the second goal.
With Wedson suffering a groin injury, Morgan may need to tinker his line-up again in the next match. Among all the I-League coaches, he has been provided the least margin of error this time around. However, he continues to make the club faithful dream about the title that has been eluding them for years now.