Khalid Jamil will be counting his lucky stars. A few weeks ago, East Bengal were down and out, losing to Gokulam Kerala FC. They were on a good run of form and peaking at the right time to launch a late title bid, but that defeat seemed to have derailed their title charge, leaving them with slim hopes to win the title. Minerva Punjab should have secured the title long back, but two defeats against the bottom half sides have threatened to derail their campaign.
But the recent thrashing of Chennai City FC 7-1, along with Minerva Punjab’s slip up against Gokulam Kerala FC and Chennai City FC has meant, East Bengal are in drivers seat to bring the title back to Kolkata. In the end, it will all come down to the East Bengal vs NEROCA game on the 8th of March. The storylines on that day are so interesting, with every team fighting for something.
East Bengal play Shillong Lajong on the 5th of March, and they will be hoping that their star player Dudu Omagbemi and Katsumi Yusa, the 4 star striker (Chennai City FC), comes good once again. Khalid Jamil will be heavily relying on the two foreign recruits to break the deadlock. Lajong will be playing to secure direct qualification into the Indian Super Cup 2018, while East Bengal will be playing to keep their title hopes alive.
East Bengal - 29 points in 16 games.
NEROCA - 31 points in 17 games.
Minerva Punjab - 32 points in 17 games.
Khalid Jamil was under immense pressure early in the season. East Bengal failed to win against their arch rivals Mohun Bagan, drew against defending champions Aizawl FC, leaving them with just 1 point from their opening two games. But he turned things around, with 5 wins in 6 games putting them comfortably into the title race. The run included wins over each and every team in the current bottom 5, showing that East Bengal were developing into somewhat of a bottom team bullies.
A draw against NEROCA proved the point. This run was followed by a run which only strengthened the above claims. East Bengal lost against Mohun Bagan, drew with Churchill Brothers, Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab. A shock defeat to Gokulam Kerala FC further threatened to undo all the good work. But impressive victories over Minerva Punjab away from home as well as the thrashing of Chennai City FC means, East Bengal is back!
With Lajong lurking around the corner, East Bengal need to be at their game and need to put in their best performances in the next two games if they want to win the title. Their players surely have the experience and the head for such pressure situations, but at the end of the day, they will need the wishful thinking of Khalid Jamil to cross the line, giving the manager his second title in two years.