Alejandro Menendez had a look of relief as he quickly headed for the tunnel at the end of the weekend win over Gokulam Kerala FC. Even after a flying start to the I-League with two away victories, East Bengal succumbed to three back-to-back losses and the Kolkata Maidan started whispering about his credentials.
The former Real Madrid Castilla manager made two changes and one of them turned out to be pivotal. He dared to drop Costa Rican world cupper Jhonny Acosta in defence and brought in India international Salam Rajan Singh whereas the decisive change was to give Lalrindika Ralte a nod ahead of former Minerva Punjab player Kamalpreet Singh in midfield.
Against Minerva, East Bengal's midfield looked out of sorts as both Singh and Kassim Aidara were defensive minded and they lacked creativity. With Dika coming in, the midfield was revitalised and responsibilities were shared. Aidara acted as a defensive screener which allowed Dika the license to go forward and set the tempo in attack. He sprayed the passes on to the flanks and Brandon Vanlalremdika and Danmawia Ralte did the rest.
There was urgency right from the whistle and Gokulam Kerala were taken by surprise with the relentless onslaught. Within the first 15 minutes, they found themselves 2-0 down and their fate was sealed even before they could settle down.
They conceded the first goal on the fourth minute when Brandon made them pay for not clearing their lines even when they had the opportunity to do so not once but twice. Mudde Mussa had a forgettable day at the office as his lapses in concentration resulted in the opening two goals and Kerala-born striker Jobby Justin made him pay on both occasions.
In the first occasion, Musa was slow to react which allowed Justin the time and space to gently nudge the ball towards Brandon who produced a clinical finish at the far corner. Whereas, the second goal was a result of his misjudgement of the bounce and pace of the ball and Justin made the most of it. The striker showed him a clean pair of heels and went on to bury the ball into the net through the legs of Shibinraj Kunniyil.
Justin continued to have a positive impact on the game as he set up Enrique Esqueda on a platter but the Mexican could not even keep his shot on target from just outside the penalty box.
Area of concern
There is no doubt that East Bengal have managed to wake up from their slumber after a three-match losing streak. But Menendez still has some work to do in some departments, especially with his goalkeepers. The Red and Golds could have kept a clean sheet only if Rakshit Dagar showed some composure under the sticks.
For the goal he conceded, Dagar was already out of his line to collect the ball but suddenly stopped in his tracks for a fraction which allowed Christian Sabah to take a touch and push the ball into an empty net. Minutes before the former Minerva Punjab keeper was lucky to not concede a penalty when he caught Sabah inside the penalty box.
His competitor Ubaid CK had got dropped after the reckless outing which resulted in Minerva's eventual winner.
Dagar also lacks the quality to organise his defence and there was evident miscommunication between Borja Gomez and him on a couple of occasions. There will be no room for error against Mohun Bagan as the attacking trio of Sony Norde, Aser Dipanda and Henry Kisekka will be sniffing around the box to punish any error.
But this win will certainly boost the morale of the team. Gokulam Kerala have been a tough nut to crack this season and the fact that they just succumbed to their second defeat is a testimony to it. A win before the derby is always welcome and especially when it is coming at the back of three consecutive defeats.