I-League: BFC and East Bengal look for change in fortunes

Facing East Bengal again, Roca hopes, will be the end of that pain. “It’s going to be a tough game but I believe in my team,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s tie at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

Bengaluru FC players during a training session at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Friday.   -  Photo: V Sreenivasa Murthy

The defeat to East Bengal in Barasat last month was the beginning of Bengaluru FC’s pronounced slump. “It was,” head coach Albert Roca admitted here on Friday, “the start of our pain.”

This trough has now lasted a month, during which BFC has failed to win, losing two and drawing four I-League matches. It is a sequence of results that has sent the defending champion sliding to fifth place, eight points off the top.

Facing East Bengal again, Roca hopes, will be the end of that pain. “It’s going to be a tough game but I believe in my team,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s tie at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

“We’re creating the most chances, making the most passes, performing the most offensive actions, but we’re not scoring. We’ve not been efficient or clinical enough in the box. It's important also to have a No.10 who's managing the action. We need to be a little more aggressive in the last few metres. We've worked on that in the last two-three weeks.”

BFC will be without goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, who walked off with a groin strain in last week's draw with Mumbai FC, and John Johnson, who is yet to fully recover after fracturing a rib. The team is yet to sign a fourth overseas player following Roby Norales’ exit, and Roca revealed that talks were in progress. “We're still looking for one. We hope he will come finally. We've been having conversations but nothing is signed yet,” he said.

Incredible as it may seem, Trevor Morgan is perhaps under greater pressure than Roca, although his side sits on top of the table. Two draws and a defeat in the last three matches have enabled Mohun Bagan (with a game in hand) to draw level and turned the heat up on East Bengal's head coach.

The club last won the championship in 2003-2004, and there was a belief this season—after the fine start—that its time had finally arrived. That optimism, though, has evaporated after the decline in form. Comments by club officials in the wake of last week's loss to Aizawl FC—East Bengal's first of the campaign—has not helped.

“The pressure (to deliver a title) comes with coaching East Bengal,” Morgan said. “The club has been waiting 12-13 years for a title. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. One defeat in 10 and we get criticized, but that's how it is. We know what it's like in Calcutta.”

East Bengal will be without the injured Willis Plaza, the side's top-scorer in the I-League. “We tried a system versus Aizawl and it didn't work out,” Morgan said. “Now we're back to two up front again. We need to get a result. We owe it to ourselves after the performance in the last game.”

BFC’s players will be telling themselves the same thing.