Sarthak Dubey wonders as to what has gone wrong with HAL and whether they shall be able to pick themselves up from the current plight...
The city of Bangalore has not been blessed with die hard supporters like Goa and Kolkata, but even those handful fans who want to see their team perform at their level best in the nation's top flight football league have been left shattered, humiliated and certainly depressed after the 8-1 annihilation at the hands of mighty East Bengal.
In their 7 matches played so far in the I-League, HAL SC have managed to secure just a single point from a possible 21, scoring just 4 goals in the process and conceding 18. This leaves the Garden City Boys rotting at the bottom of the table in 14th place.
'Relegation looks likely' would be an understatement, keeping in mind that it's still early days in the season. So what exactly is wrong with HAL SC? Could it be the lack of an influential playmaker? Or simply the lack of quality forwards?
Coach Muralidharan is unable to sort out his best XI and most importantly his best strike partnership. The forwards include prominent names like RC Prakash, who has played at the highest level in Kolkata before his spell at HAL but somehow seems devoid of that killer instinct he once possessed, Aleksandar Sudjovic, the Serbian who has remained champion at places like Bangladesh and Oman but was mysteriously ignored for the first 5 matches this season and dramatically scored on his first start quite recently against Air India and Jagaba Hamza, who has been around the place for a while and should understand the game better than other foreign strikers but simply fails to find the back of the net on too many occasions.
Last season, it was midfield marshal Xavier Vijaykumar who single handedly carried the team on his shoulders and managed to stay afloat in the premier division for another season. But in the cruel world of football, no matter which continent, the smaller clubs have to face the wrath of the richer clubs when it comes to talent, and hence Xavier was sold to Churchill Brothers.
With the departure of the long serving HAL legend, the team lost its creativity in midfield to feed the goal-hungry strikers.
Can They Resurrect Their Season?
In the first 4 games this season, HAL didn’t play as bad as the situation seems now. The possession was comfortable (even with teams like Churchill Brothers shockingly) and the passing was good. The Aircraftsmen missed that killer attacking mentality up front as the goal drought continued and the goalkeeping blunders increased.
The confidence of the players certainly took a downturn when HAL gave up a rare half time lead to lose 4-2 at the Bangalore Football Stadium to Air India earlier this month. Ever since the disastrous 8-1 drubbing by East Bengal, one has to wonder what exactly is wrong at the club.
The pressure from AIFF to convert the Public Sector body into a private one, to make the league ‘more professional’ shouldn’t trouble the players as such. Last year, the team faced trauma after losing a team-mate who succumbed to a heart-attack. The players fought valiantly and bravely for him and heroically managed to stay up. Though it was an extremely unfortunate incident, the players will have to move on.
It’s not like the club has a dreadful pitch or staff. The artificial turf recently laid at the Bangalore Football Stadium is one of the finest in the country, and it was sponsored by FIFA themselves. The passing and flow of the game on this pitch is very exciting for fans and players alike. HAL SC have an AFC ‘A’ License holding Head Coach in the form of Thyagaraj, who might be short in height, but in no way is short on experience.
The talented Malemngangba Meetei is a fresh ray of hope and Aleksandar Sudjovic is a fantastic striker when in form. The defence was rock-solid for the first few games with captain Joseph Femi Adeola, Liliyan Kenneth and Bijoy Das not letting a calamity of an 8-1 magnitude through atleast.
“The losses have obviously brought our confidence level down. But there are still 19 matches to go, so the season is not over yet. Other teams around us have 5-6 points too, and a win for us will burst the confidence back. We just need one win”, Bijoy Das told Goal.com.
In the upcoming January transfer window, HAL must try and recruit a new striker and goalkeeper on loan to boost the depth of the squad. A star name, if possible, would do no harm.
The strikers really need to up their game and should do what they do best - score goals. Many players have complained of tiredness after games and the medical department should be at their feet when needed in such situations. The north-eastern pair of Meetei and James Singh bring that youthfulness in midfield and they must combine to click more often to create spaces and goals.
HAL’s fixture list for the next 5 games looks something like this: A trip to the talented Pune FC, three home encounters against I-League’s powerhouses Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar and Dempo and finally an away match at Mumbai FC. These teams look as intimidating as their names suggest. They are big guns who would be looking for 3 points in all these games.
HAL must use this ‘underdog tag’ to their advantage and surprise their opponents with some gritty performances. The goalkeeper Pramod must understand the value of his place and make the right decisions on the field.
Tough times lie ahead, the road looks bumpy, but when the team gets together and fights for each other, the results will look better. Bangalore believes in their warriors, and so should they...