I-League 2017-18: Under pressure East Bengal search for first win against undefeated Shillong Lajong
Having suffered a defeat against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the last round, East Bengal will be desperate for their first win in the league.
Kolkata: Winless from two matches, East Bengal will be under pressure when they host an upbeat Shillong Lajong FC in an I-League football fixture at the Vidyasagar Krirangan in Barasat on Friday.
Having suffered a defeat against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the last round, East Bengal will be desperate for their first win, while Shillong Lajong will look to continue their winning spree.
The Shillong outfit has kicked off its campaign with wins over Gokulam Kerala and Churchill Brothers at home and the aim would be to continue the momentum in the first away match of the season.
It's early days in the I-League but East Bengal coach Khalid Jamil, who scripted a fairytale success with Aizawl last season, and forward Willis Plaza are facing the heat.
Jamil's 'blue-eyed boy' Plaza has been at his misfiring best, which led to their 0-1 loss to Mohun Bagan in the derby five days back.
East Bengal had slipped away from a 2-0 lead against the defending champions, who restored parity in the last 15 minutes, as their defence showed complete lack of coordination with the goalkeeper.
The 30-year-old Trinidad forward seemed to have left behind his scoring boots at home, missing plenty of chances up front, and the frustrated red-and-gold fans have already started shouting "go back" slogans at their training.
If reports are to be believed, East Bengal are already on the lookout for possible replacements for Plaza and are in talks with former striker Ranti Martins and ex-Mohun Bagan forward Darryl Duffy.
In such a scenario, Plaza will have his task cutout.
"I am as motivated as before but the only thing that is missing for me is the goals... Every striker wants to go home after scoring goals, I too want to score and would try my best (tomorrow)," the 30-year-old said.
Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna will orchestrate the attack, while Katsumi Yusa is likely to go for the kill from his favourite right flank and the onus will be on Plaza and Charles d'Souza to deliver the goals.
Amna, however, said they are one win away from turning things around as East Bengal (one point) lie sixth in the 10- team standings led by Minerva, one point clear of second-placed Shillong Lajong.
"We played decently in the first match but drew it owing to silly mistakes and in the derby we lost due to defensive mistakes," Amna said.
"Not winning in two games does not mean the end for us. One victory can change everything."
Jamil's defensive tactics will also be closely scrutinised and it remains to be seen whether the I-League- winning coach brings back Arnab Mondal to partner Eduardo Ferreira at the centre of their defence.
Mondal was left out in the derby as Jamil had preferred Gurwinder Singh as the defensive partner of Ferreira, but the latter looked slow and even got a yellow card.
"It's up to the coach whether he wants me in the playing XI," Mondal said.
The 28-year-old is the club's sixth signing of the summer, and joins the side ahead of their AFC Cup playoff clash against Eagles FC.
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