At the end of the bout, Trevor Morgan will have had his head firmly in his hands. That's figurative, of course. The robust Briton was seen in his magnanimous best - congratulating Aizawl FC and their gaffer, Khalid Jamil, on a fine performance.
But, on the afternoon of Monday, 20th February, the British coach was also at his fuming worst as was seen and heard during the post-match press conference when his East Bengal side succumbed to a 1-0 in Mizoram's capitale. "We prepared for the new system for two days but today it seemed we got 10 people off the street, gave them a shirt and asked them to go play for us. There was no organization, nothing," he castigated, singling our every East Bengal player.
The word organization is specifically important here - in a congested fixture program and league such as India's top division, any remote semblance of structure in a team, from formation to training regimen, will already garner it an advantage. This is something Morgan counted on his side to maintain until he could be assured of lifting the coveted I-League title in May. However, February seems to have already brought doubtful tidings onto The Red and Golds ' docks.
Simply put, the Kolkata team's tryst with poor form comes at the worst possible time in their 2017 conquest. Having handed a match's advantage to Mohun Bagan, who sit tied with The Lal Holud at the top of the table after the last round, there are bigger issues on the horizon for the current league leaders.
Firstly, having seen Bengaluru FC slip near convincingly out of the title race earlier, there is a chance East Bengal's poor form and showing could offer them a chance to re-enter it. The Blues sit eight points behind The Red and Golds , but with a game in hand.
Now, most importantly Albert Roca's team square off against Morgan's on the 25th of February at the Kanteerava. In their last two visits to southern India, the team from West Bengal have been whipped, conceding six goals and scoring just one. The side that takes to the field on Saturday for The Southern Eagles may be one struggling, but there is no denying that they have potential to overcome their problems and what better way could be there to announce their return to form than with the beating of East Bengal.
Assuming they win against East Bengal and their game in hand, the Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned side could realistically be just two points off their illustrious rivals. Added to this, is the prospect of The Mariners gaining a possible six point advantage over East Bengal if they maximize their results. This will probably sound a death knell of sorts for East Bengal despite matches coming thick and fast in the league.
Aizawl FC, the pugilists of the league this term, too are certainly well within a shout of challenging for the title if they keep their form up as well. They sit just one point behind the Englishman's team, and could realistically overtake them if Bengaluru beat East Bengal in their southern parish. This will pose new problems for Morgan as well, seeing his team could be third and stuttering at the end of the league's round 10 fixtures, with the current league champions then breathing down their neck.
Ultimately the onus was on East Bengal to make their fixtures against Aizawl and Shillong Lajong count on the points table. Unfortunately, the team who haven't won the domestic title for 13 years have managed just two points from a possible nine. This despite recording six consecutive wins earlier, scoring 14 goals.
The dip in form, if not rectified suitably, will impact Morgan's side painfully.
There is also the complication with deep factionalism at East Bengal. Stories emanating from two rival camps within the management of the team seem to trivialize the teams accomplishments so far and there is very real danger that this will impact them on the field as well. Kalyan Majumder and Santosh Bhattacharya may be the torch bearers for the side off the field but their combats won't help Morgan's cause in anyway.
These typically unchartered bouts have a huge bearing on the mentality of any side as well, with the poor form likely to impact the team significantly.
At the end of the day, Morgan must rouse his troops and facilitate them to accede to popular ambition. Sealing the I-League title that has been a mere phrase on the lips of every East Bengal fan - falling to pray poor form will relegate this meticulously assembled team to one of just also-rans in the title race. The ball is in East Bengal's court and now, Morgan must aid them in keeping it there.