In a one-to-one chat with Goal.com, the East Bengal medio opens up about his team's position and their title chances this season.....Mehtab Hussain, the midfield lynchpin of East Bengal, stressed the fact that his team is still well placed in the title-race and a couple of good performances in the next two weekends can change the whole scenario. East Bengal are now at the second place in the league table with 30 points from their 15 matches and are 4 points behind the toppers Churchill Brothers who have a game in hand. They play their next two matches against top class teams like Churchill and Pune FC and the result of these two fixtures will decide the fate of the Red and Gold in this edition of the I-League.
In an exclusive chat with Goal.com, the Indian International said that it is the plethora of missed chances that cost East Bengal at least 8 points in the league.
“We have played good football throughout the season. But the missed chances have taken the toll on the points tally. Like in the Dempo match, we dominated both before and after the break. But we couldn’t capitalize our chances and when they converted their only half chance, we drove ourselves to trouble. These easy points matter much in the long run.”
East Bengal started off the season with an impressive 10 match unbeaten streak, but then went on to lose 3 out of their next five. The team had somehow lost its focus in the last few matches and the over-dependence of Chidi Edeh for goals and Penn Orji for creativity were the reasons which led to their downfall.
“Yes, we have had problems upfront. But I can assure that the guys have worked hard to perform. Strikers must score goals to gain confidence. This has been a problem for all the Indian strikers in this edition of I-League. None of the Indian forwards has passed the 5-goal mark. The time has come for them to seriously prove themselves. Talking of our team, we will have more striking options as Andrew Barisic, our new foreign recruit has now joined the squad. Now, this will ensure that Chidi will have less pressure to cope with.”
However, the other two foreigners of the Kolkata giants, Penn Orji and Uga Okpara have been regular for the side for the last two and a half years. It has to be seen who has to sit out to make space for the new striker.
“Yes, we have a very strong squad at our disposal. It always becomes difficult for the coach to choose among so many talented players. But we have a great atmosphere in the dressing room and it guarantees that everybody has to give more than cent percent to retain his place in the team. As Barisic has now arrived, somebody may have to make way for him. But surely he will take in a good spirit,” said Mehtab.
He also stood beside Penn Orji, whose performances have been under the scanner for the last few weeks.
“It would have been great if he could score more goals this season. Still, he has shown his creative capabilities and has supplied balls for the strikers upfront. The main part for us is that he has tried his level best.”
Mehtab looked happy with the display of the defense as East Bengal has only conceded 6 goals in the league so far.
“Most of the goals we conceded are from counter attacks. Even the best teams of the world sometimes become susceptible to counter attacks. But if we can become prolific at the other end of the ground, we can assure that these small mistakes don’t make much difference.”
The midfielder also lamented over the fact that they had lost points despite dominating some of the matches.
“We should have sealed a win in the first match against Sporting Clube de Goa. We missed many easy chances. Then the match against Dempo was also similar. I don’t claim that we dominated against Prayag, but it was more of a fifty-fifty match and we deserved the share of honours. I hope these mistakes don’t play a big role in determining the winners of the league.”
He praised the performances of Churchill and Pune FC who have done well this season and have emerged as prime contenders for the title.
“Both of them have played good football and are in excellent form. But you must also remember that we have defeated both of them in the first leg. So, I expect that we can repeat our feat this time also.”
The national player also looked ecstatic about the performance of Pailan Arrows in the current edition of the I-League given that they have improved under Arthur Papas and do not bear the tag of the ‘most boring side to watch in the league ‘which they had after a listless last season.
“See, I have a lot of expectation from them. They are all talented young boys and future of Indian football. The likes of Milan Singh, Alwyn George and Holicharan Narzary will bear the baton for the next few years. I hope they continue their exceptional performance in the future also.”
When asked about the chances of East Bengal in AFC Cup, Mehtab didn’t sound very hopeful.
“The main cause is that we are behind most other countries in terms of infrastructure. After a match, we even don’t get enough medical care or rest. Thus our injuries make us sidelined for long. Also, many a time we have very close matches; matches in every three days. It also harms the fitness level. Still, I am hopeful that we will perform well in the AFC Cup since we have many reserve players waiting to prove their mettle.”
The experienced midfielder has been a regular feature in Indian Jersey for the last year or so. But AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers isn’t on his mind as yet.
“I am considering one thing at a time. Now, I am only focused to perform well for my club. I will set my targets for the National team when I am in the national camp,” he signed off.
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