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I-League 2017-18: Undeserving East Bengal - It was Gokulam Kerala that played like the team in the title race

02:25 SAST 2018/02/18
Gokulam Kerala East bengal
Gokulam put in another masterclass as Khalid Jamil's men ruined the chance to mount title challenge...

GOAL BY NISANTH V EASWAR    Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter

On Saturday, Calicut witnessed the home team Gokulam Kerala come out as 2-1 victors over Kolkata giants East Bengal, thus in all likelihood, ending their challenge for the I-League title this season.

The wait has been long for the fans of East Bengal. It is 14 years worth of humiliation and the craving for silverware and for a club like East Bengal, it is unacceptable.

The fans are angry and while they did not resort to physical assault, they vented out their frustration outside the stadium building after the game as the players headed towards the team bus.

The dedicated supporters, who have been with the team through thick and thin, shouted against Alvito de Cunha and the officials for their consistently poor results. Clearly, the issues at the club go beyond on-field troubles.

Gokulam Kerala were all over East Bengal in the early minutes of the match. The tempo slowed down a few minutes into the first half and East Bengal looked like they were fighting back into the game. It took them almost half an hour to get into the game and this fixture was supposed to be their golden chance to put pressure on Minerva Punjab and NEROCA FC at the top of the table.

At last, Katsumi Yusa, the only player who looked to be in the mood to play his heart out for three points, won a penalty at the stroke of half-time. He stepped up and scored to send the visitors a hopeful lead to cling on to as the players headed for the tunnel. 

The penalty was where East Bengal's dominance ended. The second half saw a hungry Gokulam Kerala strangle East Bengal. And the football on display was even more convincing than what they dished out five days ago against Mohun Bagan.

It took six minutes for the home side to equalise after the restart and Kivi Zhimomi's leveller came out of a patient passing move. Wait, what? Aren't we talking about a match between a new entrant struggling at the bottom of the table against a team vying for the title?

At no point in the game did Gokulam look like a side on the defensive. Bino George, who was once trolled for his comments on Kerala Blasters and their head coach, proved what an astute tactician he is. 

George set his team up to press the ball high up the field against two teams he knew would cause his defence trouble if they win the ball in Gokulam's defensive third. Mohamed Irshad, the stand-in right-back was instructed to surge forward on overlaps whenever there was a switch to his flank. What it did was completely lock down East Bengal's left winger Yami Longvah. Yami was taken off at half-time by Khalid Jamil.

Strikers are said to be the focal point for any team. Gokulam Kerala missed Henry Kisseka's desire, hold up play, vision and strength in the air. Alongside Alajmi, Kisekka proved to be lethal against Mohun Bagan. Alajmi had to be replaced by youngster Arjun Jayaraj in the first half and this was a chance to see how Kisekka would hold on his own up front. Boy, did he deliver!

The Ugandan striker set up Zhimomi for the equaliser, made the run for Jayaraj to cross into the box in the 87th minute that resulted in Salam Ranjan deflecting the ball into his own net and struck the woodwork twice in the second half. 

A left-footed curler and a powerful header came off the bar to deny Kisekka but in the end, it did not matter. Al-Amna and Katsumi Yusa, two of East Benga's most dangerous threats, were kept under constant vigilance by Gokulam Kerala's midfield that involved Ugandan Mudde Musa and Rashid. 

Gokulam Kerala has defeated two of the biggest clubs in India in the space of five days and they did it by playing attacking football. Both the Kolkata-based clubs had incentives to treat the games as must-win. Both failed. And for a club like East Bengal, who hasn't seen silverware for so long, this season was probably their best shot at the title given how open the race has been. Why did they not put their heart and soul into it then? Will they get another chance next season in a whole new league with even more competition for a top-tier league title?

Questions need to be raised and East Bengal supporters deserve better.