East Bengal host DSK Shivajians on Sunday with the backdrop to the game provided by the incidents that happened off the field as East Bengal fans remonstrated with the club earlier this week.
The Kolkatan giants lost to local rivals Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata derby and were simply outplayed for huge chunks of the game. To get perspective, that tie was crucial for East Bengal to remain in the title chase but the way they wilted in the face of a challenge clearly irked the supporters.
While the Red and Golds were the early pace setters and were the top dogs for a prolonged period, that is no longer the case as a poor recent run of form where they have been defeated four times in their last six matches has meant their descent to the third position as well as sowing seeds of doubt among the players and fans alike.
What that has led to is chants of 'Go Back Morgan' and 'Go Back Rehenesh' filling the air at the training session as gaffer Trevor James Morgan and goalkeeper TP Rehenesh seemed to be the two main culprits in the eyes of the club faithful.
Things, though, took a violent turn, when Rehenesh showed his middle finger to the gathering which sparked a furore. On his way to the practice session, the former NorthEast United goalkeeper allegedly kicked a supporter, which caused a major fracas. For his role in the whole incident, Rehenesh has been sent back to Kerala and will play no part on Sunday.
However, not all is gloom for East Bengal, as they are mathematically still in the title race but it would require a cataclysmic collapse by the two sides above them – Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC.
DSK Shivajians, on the other hand, seemed to have turned the tide after three losses in four games with a 5-0 thumping of Mumbai FC, but were on the losing end of a 3-2 thriller against Shillong Lajong, a game they didn’t deserve to lose!
The concern will be the defense though, with goals being leaked for fun. Dave Rogers will be tasked with shoring that up and not giving away freebies to the opponent trio of Robin Singh, Wedson Anselme and Willis Plaza.
An interesting matchup that could swing the tie in the visitors’ favour is between Halicharan Narzary and Ivan Bukenya, which would be a reprise of the age-old pacy striker vs slow defender matchup. Narzary’s recent form certainly gives him an edge here.
Narzary will be assisted up front by the guile of Juan Quero and the directness of Seityasen Singh. Their midfield is expected to comprise of Sanju Pradhan, Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Milan Singh.
Subrata Pal will be in goal, guarded by Shane McFaul and Sasa Kolunjia in the center, and with Nirmal Chettri and Jerry Lalrinzuala flanking.
As for the home side, with Rehenesh sent back, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury will start in goal as part of Morgan’s favoured 4-4-2 diamond formation.
The four-man defense will feature Rahul Bheke, Ivan Bukenya, Gurwinder Singh and Robert Lalthlamuana, with the derby-day goalscorer Rowllin Borges sitting in front of the defense as a shield.
Romeo Fernandes and Abinash Ruidas will man the flanks, and the front three will be Robin Singh, Chris Payne and Wedson Anselme.
Will East Bengal be able to calm their boiling fanbase with a win, or does it get worse thanks to the Shivajians?
EAST BENGAL F.C.
Injured: Nikhil Poojary, Anwar Ali
Doubtful: Bikash Jairu
Dropped: Arnab Mondal, Cavin Lobo, Rehenesh TP
Suspended: Willis Plaza
Key Player: Wedson Anselme
Key Players: Juan Quero