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Kolkata derby: Promising signs for East Bengal despite defeat

ATK Mohun Bagan were more efficient in ISL’s first Kolkata derby…

Friday evening was eventful for the Indian football audience. It was a special night not only because Indian Super League (ISL) hosted its first-ever Kolkata derby but also due to the fact that Robbie Fowler is making his debut in Indian football. 

The Liverpool legend was announced as the head coach one of the Kolkata giants a few months ago and people have been waiting to get a first impression of the club in their first season in ISL  – and the first impressions are positive.

Two well-taken goals in the second half – by Roy Krishna and Manvir Singh – put the game beyond doubt and out of reach of East Bengal. Full credit to Bagan for taking their chances and going atop the ISL table with six points after two matches. 

But it was a closer contest than what the scoreline would suggest. East Bengal was always in the game right until the final minute and looked like they could score at any point in the game. Considering the pre-season that they have had, they looked nearly ready and that is impressive. 

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It must be remembered that Fowler’s squad was assembled and arrived in Goa a few weeks after the rest of the teams started training for pre-season in Goa. This also meant that the foreign players have had only a few sessions with the rest of the squad. But there were some good performances on the field on Friday. 

Anthony Pilkington looks like a player ready to take ISL by storm once he fully settles into his rhythm. On his Indian football debut, he was a menace for the defenders to handle and looked threatening in the final third. Fowler went with Balwant Singh upfront, with Jeje Lalpekhlua on the bench, but the Indian striker failed to grab eyeballs.

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The Indian contingent of the Red and Golds will need to step up and deliver and in the current state, East Bengal look like a team without a proper centre-forward. 

Matti Steinmann was always available for a pass and helped East Bengal keep hold of the ball for long periods. The Red and Golds had nearly 60 per cent of the ball and twice the number of passes compared to their arch-rivals. 

But in the end, it is the final scoreline that matters and that is where Antonio Habas’ shrewd tactics came to the fore. The efficient attack of the Mariners proved to be the biggest difference between the two teams, and Roy Krishna broke the deadlock with a wonderful low hit from the edge of the box that took the keeper Debjit Majumder by surprise soon after the restart. 

With the opposition chasing the game and leaving themselves vulnerable to quick counters, substitute Manvir Singh decided to embark on a solo trip to greatness. He latched onto a long ball into space on the right flank by Prabir Das, knocked it forward and outran his marker, got into the box cut inside onto his left foot and smashed home. Two back-to-back strong cameos from Manvir should give Habas a selection headache for their third game. 

Bagan were more ready and efficient in the match and fully deserved their win. But for a first match in the ISL, Fowler’s men exceeded expectations in terms of their performance.

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