FEATURE : When Robin Turned Villain

Monday, 23 January 2017|DC
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East Bengal's Robin Singh scores the winning goal against former club Bengaluru FC, exposing their frailties.

Who needs batman when we have Robin? Well, that’s what they said after striker Robin Singh gracefully netted the winner against Dempo in the final of the 2014 Federation Cup for Bengaluru FC. Sunday’s events served as a gentle reminder for West Block Blues to be careful what they wish for.

 

Robin, now turning out for East Bengal with a new shiny blonde streak on his ever-thinning hairline, galloped on a loose ball following defender John Johnson’s poor clearance and sneaked it past goalkeeper Amrinder Singh for an EB victory. A few minutes before that goal, he was denied by the crossbar and for all you know, even that could have spelt doom for BFC.

 

That 79th minute strike also marks the completion of a circle for Robin, who three years ago scored an own goal and led to BFC’s 0-2 loss against the Red and Gold. It was BFC’s first loss in the 2013/14 season and even this time, Robin became the villain who spearheaded the defending I-League champions’ first loss in four games. In a 10-team league such as this, one loss is indeed hard to recover from. BFC have recuperated before and it remains to be seen how they fight back against Churchill Brothers next on Friday (Jan 27).

 

They’re still plenty of lessons to be learnt from the 1-2 loss at Barasat Stadium. It showed BFC’s back-line, who had maintained a clean sheet till now, is penetrable. Consider Ivan Bukenya goal for example. BFC failed to anticipate a short corner and when Lalrindika Ralte surged in, they scrambled near the goal and let Bukenya, and another EB man behind him, unmarked right in front of the goal mouth for a simple tap-in. A little bit of chaos and all hell broke loose there.

 

Johnson’s defensive blunder, where he miscued a header under pressure and gifted the ball to Robin, is forgivable considering the Englishman has cut plenty opportunities in that and other games he has featured in. Maybe the crowd got to him and he had a moment of weakness.

 

Albert Roca’s Bengaluru FC, however, need to be wary of those long balls that Johnson eventually fell for. The former Barcelona assistant conceded they need to work on that aspect or else would risk losing out. “In the second half, we conceded some easy counterattacks,” he said. “We also have to check the long balls. They created many chances with just long balls. So we did not control the game. Our style of play is to control the ball and play.”

 

What about the strikers then? EB coach Trevor Morgan showed the pacey forward line of CK Vineeth, Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri can be managed by placing physically strong central defenders. Robin Charles Raja’s Chennai City FC held strong for 77minutes a week ago with one Echezona Anyichie from Nigeria but his clearances were awry.

 

Mumbai FC, with an all-Indian line-up, could hardly sustain BFC’s speedy runs down the line. Vineeth often checked his runs to free himself off his marker against Mumbai, where he scored the first hat-trick of the club. Shillong Lajong, in the opening weekend, were easy pickings for BFC. The 3-0 scoreline could have easily read 5-0 or 6-0 had Bengaluru not messed up in their finishing in the first half.

 

Perhaps poor finishing, evident in the opening weekend and against Chennai where they had a barren first half, finally came to bite Bengaluru in the back on Sunday. Not all teams would be forgiving if one chance is missed.

 

EB also got their defensive plan right and this could send out a strong hint for Sanjoy Sen’s Mohun Bagan, the other title contenders, on how to contain BFC. Barring for that Rahul Bheke’s lapse, which led to Vineeth’s openeron Sunday, BFC’s inroads into the opposition box were cut down. Towards the end, in search of a desperate equaliser, they resorted to taking chances from outside the box and were no threat for goalkeeper TP Rehenesh.

 

Bengaluru FC strikers also have to be patient with their goalscoring opportunities. They create their chances from the back and are often seen getting into a melee outside the box when they try to approach from the centre. The wing-attack - with Harmanjot Khabra and Udanta Singh on the right -seems to have worked well for them so far but you can’t say the same for the other flank. Defender Sena Ralte did score a 30-yard stunner the other day against Lajong but it’s a wonder goal for that reason. He tried that against Chennai City FC but was nowhere close to the pocket.

 

Roca requires better execution from the central midfield against a compact defence line like that of EB. They will have it easy against Churchill this week in Goa, which will give them the right boost ahead of an all-crucial AFC Champions League away playoff game against Al-Wehdat of Jordan on Jan 31.