East Bengal took an important step in their quest to win their first-ever I-League title with a 2-1 defeat of NEROCA FC on Thursday. Substitute Enrique Esqueda was the hero of the day for the Red and Golds as his brace allowed them to move to within two points of second-placed Chennai City FC.
Despite taking the lead, NEROCA slowly went into a shell as the game progressed and allowed East Bengal to see more of the ball and eventually complete the turnaround.
The home team could have taken a lead in the first half themselves had they been a little more clinical in the attacking third. They failed to convert at least four proper chances.
The Kolkata giants went all out in the second half with Alejandro Menendez introducing three new faces within a span of seven minutes (57-64) starting with Esqueda.
The Mexican striker returned to action after he suffered a rib injury back in December in a match against Gokulam Kerala in Kolkata.
Even though he came back to Kolkata before the derby coach Alejandro had used him only for the last couple of minutes in the match. But today he played for a little more than half an hour and did the trick for his side.
The striker’s link up play, his ability to switch position and his clinical approach inside the box made the difference for East Bengal. The trident of Enrique, Jobby Justin and Jaime Santos Colado means East Bengal now have a lethal attack force.
Another very important aspect of this team is their fitness level. This team can maintain their intensity throughout the 90 minutes. Today, East Bengal attacked in numbers throughout the game and never gave up. Their persistence in the attacking third yielded them their second and winning goal.
Physical trainer Carlos Nodar Paz has done an exceptional job with this side so far and helped them immensely in improving their physical condition and fitness, which is a rarity in Indian football.
The win kept East Bengal in the title race but the real test lies on Sunday when they take on fellow title aspirants Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar.
The I-League debutants have been a tough nut to crack this season and they have been practically unbeatable at their home ground. Even the most consistent side of the league this season, Chennai City FC, lost both their ties against David Robertson’s side.
It is not an easy task to play at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar in prevalent adverse weather condition. It is freezing cold there and the occasional snowfall and rains are just adding up to the difficult condition.