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“A little fighting, a lot of frustration” – Making sense of the ISL madness of East Bengal and Chennaiyin!

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An extremely entertaining affair at Tilak Maidan would have left both parties begging for more …

It would be an understatement to say that Saturday night’s 2-2 draw between Chennaiyin FC and SC East Bengal in the Indian Super League (ISL) was a treat for neutrals.

A whopping 28 attempts on goal, nine on target and four goals made it an entertaining affair at Tilak Maidan in Vasco, Goa. But for both sides it would have been anything but. Both sides were desperate to win for entirely different reasons.

Chennaiyin wanted one to get some consistency and close the gap with the league leaders. East Bengal, on the other hand, were on the lookout for their very first ISL victory. After 90 minutes neither team got what they wanted, but both teams felt they could have gotten exactly what they wanted. It was that kind of game.

For the first 45 minutes, however, it looked like the game was going according to the league table. Chennaiyin were the better team, as they have been in most of their games, and got a deserved goal thanks to Lallianzuala Chhangte who clearly scored the goal from Jakub Sylvestr who had a curious performance on the night (more to this subject).

Robbie Fowler, looking at the cannon again, decided to tweak his system. Young Rohen Singh replaced Surchandra Singh (who had been burned by Chhangte’s rhythm) and midfielder Sehnaj Singh was addicted to former Chennaiyin striker Jeje Lalpekhlua.

The move clicked for Fowler, who began to see his team get more on the ball and threaten the Chennaiyin defense. Jeje is an underrated striker when it comes to delaying the game and getting his teammates into the game. He had been suffering from injuries for a season or two, but there were faltering signs that he was coming back to life, at least with his smart play and moves.

What followed was a crazy half, which saw Matti Steinmann equalize twice for East Bengal, sandwiching a strike from Rahim Ali, and he ideally should have scored the winner as well. He also laid bare their gaps at the back where Chennaiyin really should have scored a bunch of goals.

One could argue that East Bengal, so to speak, has stopped their slide into the ISL. It’s not a team you could ride on and easily get three points on. In the last two games, they have shown signs of a fight. Against the Kerala Blasters, at least in the first half, they were impressive for the rest with the trio of Jacques Maghoma, Anthony Pilkington and Mohammed Rafique doing well.

On Saturday, against an attacking Chennaiyin, Fowler’s East Bengal finally began to look threatening from a set piece. They made the headlines this summer for appointing a set-set specialist to Terrence McPhillips. However, until Saturday, they did not seem comfortable either defending stoppage situations or even threatening the citadel of the opposition. It seems to be changing now.

Matti Steinmann scored a few corner goals and could have completed his hat trick as well. Although the goals came against a team from Chennaiyin FC, which is known to be weak when it comes to defending free kick situations, Fowler and co. will certainly take positive aspects of their performance.

What remains of concern for the England manager is how Chennaiyin might get behind his defense. It was thanks to the debauchery of the attackers from Chennaiyin that East Bengal continued to be tied. Defensively they still look fragile and that’s something Fowler needs to tackle ahead of their game against Odisha FC, which comes at a perfect time for the Red and Golds.

East Bengal score vs Chennaiyin

For Chennaiyin, head coach Csaba Laszlo really could do nothing more than hope for divine intervention, it feels. To his immense credit, the Hungarian’s tactics were flawless in every game, with the possible exception of the NorthEast United game which ended scoreless. He beat Juan Ferrando, Owen Coyle and even Sergio Lobera. But all he has to show for that are two wins and three draws in seven games.

While their firm-kick defense continues to be an issue, Chennaiyin’s main issue is over-finishing. Jakub Sylvestr, as mentioned earlier, was brilliant when it came to approach and construction play in the Laszlo system. His movement has also been great and he easily takes promising positions. However, he just can’t score goals at the moment. He ideally should have scored a hat-trick against East Bengal and probably more in previous matches as well.

It seems to be a trust issue. There’s not much you can do except hope he gets a goal and build confidence soon enough. And it’s not just Sylvestr. Absolutely brilliant game-maker Rafael Crivellaro wasted chances. Chhangte has been vilified for missing a glut of tap-ins recently. It was almost ironic that one night when Chhangte found his goal shoes, Chennaiyin decided to filter the blockbuster – “How not to score goals”!

It was nothing but a crazy, crazy game!