Sunil Chhetri was quick to walk off the pitch at the full-time whistle. It was a fourth successive defeat for Bengaluru FC. An unwanted record for the skipper during his eight seasons at the club. It's now been 360 minutes since Bengaluru scored from open play and its only goal during this period came after being awarded a dubious penalty. It's also been seven games since it kept a cleansheet. There was no 'new coach' bounce, at least with the result.
Naushad Moosa, the interim head coach, is still coming to terms with the nature of his promotion after the sacking of Carles Cuadrat on Wednesday. "You won't believe me, but it's been three sleepless nights. It's not been easy for me. It was all of a sudden and we knew what kind of a relationship we shared with Carles. The kind of relationship the whole team shared, not only the coaching staff. It was not easy for us," Moosa told the host broadcaster after the game.
While in the pre-match, Moosa spoke of not bringing in too many youngsters during a difficult moment for the club, he stated that he wants "to rely more on the youth now" at the end of the game. Bengaluru's average age dropped from 31 to 29 from its previous game against Mumbai City FC. Moosa also opted to play with specialists in each role instead of using experienced functional players.
With Bengaluru still in contention for a play-off place, the ISL might not be an ideal breeding ground for an untested Moosa and his youngsters to test their mettle. After six titles in as many years, BFC went trophyless last season.
BFC vs SCEB| AS IT HAPPENED
Also, the core of Bengaluru's title-winning squad from 2018-19 is approaching its last legs. Defeats to physically stronger and faster teams ATK Mohun Bagan, Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC seemed to have passed by the likes of Chhetri (36), Dimas Delgado (37), Harmanjot Khabra (32), Juanan (33) and Erik Paartalu (34). For all his technical deficiency, midfielder Suresh Wangjam, 20, appeared to be on a one-man crusade to chase after those teams with his boundless energy.
At the Fatorda Stadium, as SC East Bengal got the ball rolling, Bengaluru players ran at full tilt to press the opposition high up the pitch to force a mistake. But as soon as they won the ball back, Rahul Bheke hit a misplaced pass to concede possession straight away.
Moosa promised 'entertaining football' and he wasn't far off from delivering that. While there were some bright moments in the opening half, the team fell into the old habits of chasing shadows. Passes between the midfielders and attackers struggled to open up spaces behind the East Bengal defence.
East Bengal was the superior team in the half, enjoying a higher share of possession (58 per cent) and passed the ball better with better passing accuracy. It repeatedly targeted Ajith Kumar, who was making his first start in the ISL, with balls behind the left-back, and scored the only goal of the game from a move which originated from the flank.
Right-back Parag Srivas, who was also handed his first senior start, showed purpose and urgency in attack, even at the expense of being a little over-zealous while pushing out from the back. The 23-year-old picked up the ball on the right and pulled off an elastico to get away from his marker and fizzed in a low cross, which nearly provided Bengaluru with an opening goal. His evening, unfortunately, was cut short by injury. Moosa also added defender Namgyal Bhutia (21) and midfielder Amay Morajkar (20) into the mix in the second half.
To get the attacking football back, Moosa had identified the need to get more bodies to enter the final third. And they did that in the second half. Bengaluru moved the ball quicker, and its interchange in attack managed to get its forwards behind East Bengal's defence.
But East Bengal had enough bodies of their own inside its box to block everything Bengaluru threw at it. And when Chhetri, Paartalu and Kristian Opseth managed to get their shots past the East Bengal defenders, they were halted by an inspired Debjit Majumder between the sticks.
Despite the defeat, BFC owner Parth Jindal gave his approval after the improved second half showing. "Even though we lost I thought the team played a much better brand of football today. We will learn from this and come back hard on Tuesday - chin up boys. Let’s back this style of play and build from here," he posted on Twitter.
In the press release which announced the departure of Cuadrat, Jindal explained the need to hit the refresh button. "After deep deliberation with the management, we feel the club needs to head in a new direction – one where the ethos and philosophy of Bengaluru FC begins reflecting again. While we enjoyed success with Carles in the past, we felt there was a departure from the philosophy that we hold true this season, which prompted us to arrive at this decision."
While the AFC Champions League spot further in the rearview mirror, wins and trophies, too, might not be at the top of the agenda for India's most successful club of the previous decade for the foreseeable future as it embarks on a period of transition into new beginnings.
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