Following on from their derby defeat on Friday night in the Indian Super League (ISL), SC East Bengal players and their coaching staff have received a lot of backlash on social media for their insipid display in what is the biggest match on the Indian football calendar. While some are critical of individual performances from some players, others blamed the tactics for the 3-1 defeat against an efficient ATK Mohun Bagan side. Here are five such aspects where we believe the Red and Golds need to improve before the start of the next season.
SC East Bengal’s achilles heel this season has undoubtedly been their defence. Although Daniel Fox and Scott Neville were brought in to lead the backline, both of them have rarely been convincing in the ongoing campaign and have made a number of crucial errors leading to goals, including the mispass from Fox that led to the Mariner’s second goal in the derby.
The January window saw the arrival of Raju Gaikwad, Ankit Mukherjee and Sarthak Golui in an effort to shore up the defence. But after an initial thrust, they reverted back to the same bad habits and have shot themselves on the foot too many times by trying to be too intricate while playing out. What they need is a defensive rebuild in the summer in the form of one or two foreign defenders who are comparatively young and have played in India. They can then be paired with the likes of Ankit, Sarthak and Narayan Das and guide them when needed.
Non-existent wing play
The absence of wingers who can hug the touchline and stretch the opposition defence has been another issue for the side. As a result, Robbie Fowler has been forced to play with two wing-backs to offset the lack of natural width in the team. He has also tried others like Mohammed Rafique in a wider starting position but the lack of speed has been obvious in such cases rendering the attempt unsuccessful. Come summer, they need to invest in at least two quality wingers who can provide a different dimension to their attack and make their transitions less central.
Giving the youngsters a chance
Too many times this season Fowler has been guilty of trying the same set of players in the same positions even though things weren’t working out. That seemed to have changed when Haobam Tomba Singh, Yumnam Gopi Singh, Milan Singh, Rohen Singh and Wahengbam Angousana Luwang got a look in. However, except for Milan who is out with an injury, the remaining didn’t receive sufficient game time even as the team kept losing matches. This further illustrates the failure of the coaching staff in using the squad optimally and is something for the management to think about going forward.
Reactive style of play
The Red and Golds have largely depended on a five man backline with Matti Steinmann and another midfielder in front of them. The front three has been chopped and changed a number of times with the likes of Bright Enobakhare, Jacques Maghoma, Anthony Pilkington, Jeje and Aaron-Amadi Halloway used in different capacities. With such a pragmatic approach, their attack has been hugely dependent on the ball-carrying ability of Bright and Maghoma and the hold-up play that Pilkington offers. The lack of speed in their midfield is another reason why this formation has resulted in them being mostly reactive rather than proactive in terms of trying to attack in the final third.
Fowler and his assistant Tony Grant waving their arms at the referee and trying to talk some sense into them is one of the lasting images of this ISL season. While one has to agree that they have been hard done by more than once in the entire campaign, abusing referees and opposition coaches can never be the answer for that. The East Bengal dugout has been the most vociferous out of all the sides during games in terms of protesting decisions and asking for opposition players to be carded. They have to realize that this helps in nothing but the accumulation of cards for the technical staff and further puts the referees off. A word of advice, just get on with the game and do what you have to do after the match.