The former Red and Gold Brigade striker scored the equalizer for the Red Machines.
East Bengal were held to a 1-1 draw by a resurgent Churchill Brothers side at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday evening. Even after dominating the game, Willis Plaza’s 68th minute strike gave the Red Machines the lead, following Lalrindika Ralte’s error. Didika eventually made up with his impressive free-kick 10 minutes later, but the Red and Gold Brigade were unable to complete the comeback.
East Bengal might’ve moved into second position, but are now two points behind Chennai City, who face Shillong Lajong on Monday with a chance to go five points clear at the top.
Here are out talking points from the game:
5. Did East Bengal’s ghosts from the past come back to haunt them?
Willis Plaza and Khalid Aucho were the men who made a homecoming against former employers East Bengal and both looked equally up for it to cause them trouble. The in-form Plaza was especially menacing, with his drive and alertness causing East Bengal all kinds of problems. He created quite a few chances on his own with sleek movement and passing range, while also forcing Borja Gomez to be booked.
Aucho was also strong in midfield, winning the ball numerous times and distributing it cleverly. The Ugandan remained a strong presence and held his line, not allowing East Bengal to penetrate easily. Plaza’s foxy instincts proved lethal in the second half, as he enabled the Red Machines to take a point off East Bengal.
4. Has Alejandro Menendez brought a more unpredictable nature to East Bengal’s style with his fine-tuning?
East Bengal continued to display a very fluid form of football against a resilient Churchill side, who were composed of some experienced players themselves. Alejandro Menendez’s lengthy training sessions with his side are obviously working, as the players have become more intelligent in understanding their roles. While playing with a 4-4-2 approach, the game saw Enrique Esqueda and Jobby Justin often dropping back, with the former frequently moving to the wings to create space.
With many players moving around, there’s no gap in East Bengal’s midfield, which allowed them to move the ball more fluidly. Their long-ball system is also working, creating chances out of the blue, while their fantastic set-piece prowess created another goal at the Salt Lake Stadium.
3. Was Dawda Ceesay’s creativity missed by Churchill Brothers?
Churchill put up a valiant fight against a dangerous East Bengal side, but would’ve been left wanting more after the result. The Red Machines were not only strong defensively, but they did also churn out a few promising attacking moves. However, the lack of creativity in the final third cost them. Christ Remi Lorougnon couldn’t fulfil Ceesay Dawda’s role, sticking to the middle rather than drifting out to create space.
Plaza tried his best, but the lack of Ceesay’s incisiveness cost them. His set-piece, crossing ability and drive were lacking.
2. Kassim Aidara’s revival due to Alejandro Menendez’s persistence?
Kassim Aidara delivered another commendable performance for East Bengal, his third in as many matches. The intelligent midfielder was once termed surplus to requirements when Menendez took control of East Bengal, but now has turned into one of their most vital players. Aidara was again a strong figure in their midfield, not only helping them control possession with solid distribution, but also doing his defensive duties well. He covered his defence well, winning back the ball on numerous occasions and making some hard tackles when needed.
The former Minerva Punjab man also had an impact in the equalizer, helping Lalrindika Ralte’s attempted cross fool everyone to glide into goal. Aidara’s inspired revival in these past few months has proved how good a man-manager Menendez is, as the Spaniard compelled him to regain full fitness and give his absolute best for the Red and Gold.
1. Did Willis Plaza effectively dent East Bengal’s title hopes?
East Bengal were left frustrated by a persistent Churchill Brothers, who despite being riddled with injuries, did not want to give away anything in front of a packed Salt Lake Stadium. The Red Machines remained a compact unit throughout.
Plaza’s determination was rewarded when he was handed an easy goal by Lalrindika Ralte’s mistake, helping take his tally to 18 for the season. In turn, he also effectively ended East Bengal’s title hopes by taking points off them.