The Malabarians will now face Mohun Bagan in the final of the tournament.

Gokulam Kerala progressed to the final of the Durand Cup 2019 by defeating hosts East Bengal 1-1 (3-2) on penalties at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. After the Red and Gold took the lead through Samad Ali Mallick’s goal in the 18th minute, the Malabarians forced extra-time with a Marcus Joseph penalty in the dying moments. Ubaid CK was the hero of the penalty shootout with successive saves, helping his side move into the showpiece at the expense of his former employers.

Here are our talking points for the game:

5. Is Marti Crespi currently the weak-link in East Bengal’s defence?

East Bengal’s defence has done a relatively good job in the Durand Cup so far, keeping three clean-sheets and only conceding a single goal early on in the season. While most of their defenders have looked strong with their compelling defensive work, new signing Marti Crespi is yet to properly immerse himself into his new surroundings.

Crespi struggled in his first real test in East Bengal colours, not being able to make his presence felt against Joseph and Henry Kisekka. The opposition duo hounded him with their physical presence, often outmuscling and powering past him. Crespi was nervous putting in challenges and never looked comfortable in extra-time against the Gokulam attackers.

4. Did Fernando Valera’s substitutions change the game?

Gokulam Kerala ended up getting completely dominated in the first half with a very defensive 5-3-2 formation, with only one proper central midfielder in Mohamed Rashid. However, Fernando Valera realized his mistakes and decided to change things up very late into the game. He brought in influential midfielder Bruno Pelissari, while Mohamed Salah and Lalromawia also followed later.

They were shot with a boost of energy when East Bengal started slowing down, allowing them to put pressure with relentless attacks. The Malabarians went close multiple times before Kisekka earned the penalty to equalize things in added-time. They ended up dominating extra-time with a renowned urge to go forward against the vulnerable hosts.

3. Should Samad Ali Mallick be East Bengal’s starting right-back in the I-League?

Samad Ali Mallick was preferred over Kamalpreet Singh in a more attacking formation played by Alejandro Menendez in the semi-final and he didn’t let his coach down. Mallick’s already created a sustainable partnership with Pintu Mahata on the right wing, linking up really well with him throughout the game. While he could improve some traits defensively, Samad’s strong tackles and physical attributes helped keep the Malabarians quiet down the left.

He surged forward with intent, often moving into open spaces and putting in some good crosses. Samad also broke the deadlock when his ambitious attempt deflected off Rashid to glide into the net. As the say, fortune favours the brave and the right-back was definitely courageous on the day.

2. Are Gokulam Kerala too dependent on Marcus Joseph?

Coming into the game, Joseph had exclaimed that he would finish the Durand Cup with 15 goals, having netted seven times in the group stages itself. However, against the rigid defensive shape of East Bengal, the Trinidad and Tobacco star was overwhelmed by his responsibilities. He was asked to fulfill too many duties, much beyond the goalscoring prowess which is his strongest suit. The forward was also expected to create their chances, often moving deep into midfield to force some balls forward.

While he looked Gokulam’s best player with his sleek movement, impressive hold-up play and thunderous shots on goal, he couldn’t do everything by himself. The Malabarians must evaluate their gameplan to get the best out of the team, rather than focusing only on Joseph’s goals.

1. Did East Bengal make a mistake in letting Ubaid CK leave?

Ubaid CK spent a chunk of last season as East Bengal’s protector in goal, but was released for not being good enough in Menendez’s system. He came into the game with vengeance in mind and made quite a few impressive saves in normal time, including a superb one from Mahata in the first half.  

However, he really came into his own in the penalty shootout, where he broke the hearts of his former team. Ubaid was lucky to see Lalrindika Ralte’s shot hit the post, but did brilliantly to save Jaime Colado’s penalty later on. He also saved Tondomba Singh’s attempt, as those missed penalties were enough for Gokulam to come out on top in the shootout. Ubaid came out smiling against his former side, proving perhaps how naïve they were to release him.