When the I-League was entering its decisive weeks, East Bengal were in the driver's seat when it came to the title race. With two matches left in the league, East Bengal knew that two wins were enough to give them the elusive silverware.
However, two draws in those two games against Shillong Lajong and NEROCA FC scuppered their chances and Khalid Jamil's men finished fourth. The fans rounded up on the former Aizawl FC coach with his failure to find a settled starting XI blamed for the capitulation.
Barring a few players like Eduardo Ferreira, Katsumi Yusa and Mahmoud Al Amna, none of the players could stake an automatic claim in the East Bengal starting XI during the I-League season. Also, the failure to have a settled striking pair up front came back to haunt the club.
Willis Plaza was let go off midway through the season while Ansumana Kromah has rarely delivered with goals. The team then roped in Dudu Omagbemi who has not been prolific either.
The club management went on to bring in former coach Subhash Bhowmick as Technical Director to 'assist' Khalid Jamil ahead of the Super Cup. While the pair got off on the wrong note, they subsequently buried the hatchet for the benefit of the team though there is still some friction between them.
Despite all the issues, the club is on the threshold of landing their first national title in six years. So what has changed the gloom and doom that had surrounded the club after the I-League?
Despite being the Technical Director, Bhowmick has been actively involved in the training sessions amid Jamil's absence at the start of his tenure for personal reasons. One tangible change has been the focus on a possession-based style that plays to the strength of Mahmoud Al Amna and Katsumi Yusa, the two most influential players for the Red and Golds.
Bhowmick focused extensively on on-the-ball exercises during the practice sessions and that has paid dividends. While Jamil is a more pragmatic coach who prefers to utilise pace to hit teams on the counterattack (a hallmark of his league-winning Aizawl FC side), Bhowmick's approach in a team that has players comfortable on the ball has been more fruitful.
Another notable factor has been the fact that East Bengal have gone in with the same starting XI in all their three games in the Super Cup so far. Ugandan defensive midfielder Khalid Aucho has been the prefect foil for the creative Al Amna and Katsumi to weave attacks.
Bhowmick, who was the last coach to lead East Bengal to the National Football League (NFL) title in 2004, has certainly had an impact on the team and now stands a game away from salvaging some pride for the Red and Golds at the end of a season that had promised much more.
However, there are still concerns for East Bengal. They are still not making the most of their chances with a number of opportunities being spurned during the three games in the Super Cup so far. Bhowmick and Jamil needs to find a way to ensure they don't let many chances slip by in the final against a team that has the deadliest finisher in the country right now in Miku.