The hosts couldn’t find the goods to go past a rigid defence put up by the visitors.
Real Kashmir headed to the top of the I-League table by holding East Bengal to a 1-1 draw at the Salt Lake Stadium on Friday. After an own-goal from Lalramchullova gave the Snow Leopards a fortunate lead, East Bengal pegged them back and equalized through Jobby Justin’s sixth goal of the campaign.
However, they couldn’t beat Kashmir’s rigid defence after that, allowing the Snow Leopards to crawl their way to the top of the standings because of their superior goal-difference.
Here are our talking points from the game:
5. Has Danish Farooq lost his magic in the I-League?
The local Kashmir lad failed to prove himself in this clash
Danish Farooq was the star local Kashmir boy coming into this big match, but he failed to provide any glamour to the game. The left winger was extremely ineffective and wasn’t able to create anything for his team, despite multiple attempts to do so. Farooq’s first touch was poor and most of his passes went astray to frustrate supporters all around.
After being such an influential figure for them last season, it seems Farooq’s transition to the I-League hasn’t been that smooth. He’s struggled to outwit opponents and can’t read opposition well, as proved in an inefficient performance against the Red and Gold Brigade.
4. Can Toni Dovale be the missing piece of East Bengal’s attacking puzzle?
Toni Dovale is expected to make his East Bengal debut against Indian Arrows after the turn of the New Year. If their performance against Real Kashmir proved anything, it was that they need Dovale’s attacking talent soon. The Red and Gold Brigade played some smooth football occasionally against the rigid defence of Real Kashmir, but lacked that cutting edge in attack.
The trio of Justin, Laldanmawia Ralte and Jamie Santos tried to work in tandem, but needed something more to operate freely. With Brandon Vanlalremdika underperforming, Dovale can be a perfect replacement and elevate East Bengal’s attacking threat. His crossing ability, creativity and eye for goal can help Alejandro Menendez’s side push for the title in the second half of the season.
3. Was Mason Robertson’s presence missed?
Real Kashmir put in a relatively commendable defensive performance against East Bengal, yet a momentary lapse cost them all three points on the day. Despite nullifying East Bengal’s smooth passing game and movement in the final third, they lacked the towering figure of Mason Robertson to clear away high crosses.
A master at defending corners, Robertson’s clearance ability was missed when Real Kashmir failed to contain Kassim Aidara’s header and this avert Justin’s goal from the rebound. The son of head coach David Robertson is still a vital figure for the Snow Leopards and in some form or the other, he was missed by them when it came to countering the set-piece threat of the hosts.
2. Did Real Kashmir’s physical nature hamper East Bengal’s style?
The away side’s strength and energy nulified East Bengal’s playing style
Coming into the game riding high on confidence, East Bengal retained their smooth, passing style which helped them win the Kolkata Derby earlier this month. However, the same method was nullified by the physical side of Real Kashmir. The Snow Leopards boasted of some strong individuals who weren’t afraid to rattle their opposition with some crunching challenges.
It definitely worked, as East Bengal were bullied for long periods of the game and had to work even harder to create chances. The likes of Bazie Armand, Loveday Okechukwu and Aaron Katebe were dominant in their positions, nullifying many attacks and Bazie instigated chances as well. They forced East Bengal to try a Plan B in going with crosses, hence nullifying much of their momentum.
1. Is the underdogs’ tags working in Real Kashmir’s favour in I-League title race?
Real Kashmir’s terrific record away from home continued, as they churned out another valuable point at a difficult ground like the Salt Lake Stadium. After winning two of their three away matches, Kashmir came into the game with an obsession to get a point and they did just that. While the Snow Leopards would’ve been disappointed not to preserve a lucky lead, Robertson would definitely be happy with a point. However, halfway through the season, it seems like Kashmir are actually thriving under the tag of underdogs.
In most of their away games, the general perception is for them to be narrowly ousted by their opposition. However, the Snow Leopards have found a way to grind out results and play the most frustrating football to do so. Much like the winners of the past two seasons, they are slowly surging towards the championship. Now that they’re at the top of the table, it’s high time the underdog’s tags is taken off them, but the wily Kashmir wouldn’t be disappointed if it wasn’t.