After the derby loss to Mohun Bagan, former East Bengal goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly raised 'a thousand questions' on head coach Khalid Jamil's tactics and team-selection. The soft spoken Kuwait-born replied to the criticisms on the pitch after his boys trounced Shillong Lajong 5-1 at the Barasat Stadium. They went on a three match winning run, which propelled them to the top of the table.
East Bengal sits second on the table with 19 points from ten matches but after failing to pick up full three points even after being on the driver's seat for most of the time against NEROCA FC, Churchill Brothers and recently against Aizawl FC, Jamils's reputation as a defensive coach are once again coming to the fore.
On the first two occassions the Red and Golds were ahead by a slender one goal lead and conceded in the last quarter of the 90 minutes to drop four points cumulatively. Instead of continuing the momentum to get a second insurance goal, one wanders why the tendency has been to fall back after the first-half and see off rest of the match.
If East Bengal had boasted of a water-tight defense then this strategy might have worked. But the team has conceded nine goals from nine games should have gone for the killer blow instead of resting on their laurels in games.
This trend has been plaguing East Bengal since their campaign opener against Aizawl when the Mizoram based club came from two goals behind to draw level at the end of the match. Then Jamil blamed lack of concentration in the last minutes. Half-way into the league, one sees that the situation has hardly improved for the former Mumbai FC coach.
The absence of a target-man up front has also not helped Jamil's side. Willis Plaza was going through a rough patch of form in the first half of the league and just when he was regaining his touch, the Trinidadian got side-lined with a hamstring injury. Although Kerala boy Justin Jobby notched up a diving headed goal against Churchill Brothers, his presence in the opponent-half has not really inspired confidence.
In the absence of an in-form striker the onus has fallen on Mahmoud Al-Amna and Katsumi Yusa not only to create scoring opportunities but also to convert chances in the attacking third. The Japanese has been in fine form since he changed ship from Mohun Bagan and joined arch-rivals East Bengal and it is not surprising to find that he leads the scoring charts with five goals to his name along with Jean Joachim and Aser Dipanda.
Al Amna and Yusa have been the workhorses for Jamil as their movements have not been restricted only in the opponent half but they have also regularly tracked down to help in defense. The quality of these two players has negated the ineffectiveness of an otherwise docile midfield comprising of players like Bazzou Armand, who has been poor at the centre of the park.
The Red and Golds have signed Dudu Omagbemi to solve their problems in the striking department, which is also expected to take some pressure off Yusa and Amna up-front as they can concentrate more on providing the spark in midfield that has been vanishing in crucial patches in every match.
It is premature to speculate whether Jamil will be able to land the coveted I-League trophy at the club's Maiden tent in March, but we can definitely say that the Red and Golds must tweak and improve in every department to overcome arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata Derby on January 21.