How difficult can it be for a strong team on paper to fare to their potential in the Indian Super League?
For SC East Bengal, it can only be a perplexing and frustrating question as the Robbie Fowler-coached side went down to NorthEast United for their third defeat in as many matches on Saturday.
And, like in their opening two matches, East Bengal did not look headed for a defeat and were the stronger side for most of the game. It included a slew of exciting attacks masterminded by Anthony Pilkington and Jacques Maghoma, a couple of sure shouts for penalty, a few close shaves and numerous set piece opportunities.
In the end, however, all their good work was undone by the disciplined NEUFC defence, led by Benjamin Lambot and two counter attacks that gave the Highlanders a 2-0 win at Tilak Maidan and shot them to the second spot on the league table.
East Bengal began well and looked dangerous on a number of occasions. But it was NEUFC who got the breakthrough in the 33rd minute against the run of play and it took just 13.8 seconds of counter attack.
Idrissa Sylla collected the ball in the midfield and sent a long pass to Kwesi Appiah on the right wing. With Narayan Das failing to close the gap between the Ghanaian and his Guinean teammate waiting in the box, Appiah sent in a cross to Sylla, who failed to connect with it. But to the misfortune of the Kolkata giants, the ball spun off the feet of Surchandra Singh and into the goal.
As frustrating as the strike was for SC East Bengal, the ISL newcomers kept up their momentum and went on pushing for their first goal of the league. While Fowler had retracted his past comment on Indian players after their last match, it was quite evident that their main striker Balwant Singh was unable to read and keep pace with the former Premier League players. The coach, too, realised the slack and replaced him with CK Vineeth in the second half.
But it did not change things much as the onus looked to remain fixed on the creativity and skill of Pilkington and Maghoma to find the elusive first strike and the crucial equaliser.
On the other hand, there was no such problem for the young NEUFC side that thrived on the determination of its Indian youngsters and the hard work of the foreigners. The most impressive of the lot was winger Ninthoi Meetei, whose runs from the right and eagerness in going back to defend was a highlight of the Highlanders’ play.
The final nail in the coffin was stuck in the 91st minute from a superb run and cross by VP Suhari that was sent into the net by Rochharzela to keep East Bengal languishing at the bottom of the ISL table.