SC East Bengal have come a long way since the first Kolkata derby in Hero ISL

It was sort of baptism of fire when SC East Bengal last played ATK Mohun Bagan in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 on November 27 last year. The first Kolkata derby in the Hero ISL also happened to be the Red and Gold Brigade’s first-ever match in the league and they went into such a high-voltage and historic derby a little under-prepared, what with the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions it imposed.

A lot has changed since then (2-0 defeat for SC East Bengal) even though it may not be reflected in SC East Bengal’s position in the standings at present (ninth). Despite not enjoying the best of preparations, Robbie Fowler’s men still gave a good account of themselves in the derby before going on an underwhelming run that saw them earn just one point from their first five matches.

However, SC East Bengal slowly but surely started showing signs of improvement with successive draws prior to their first win of the campaign against Odisha FC. Having identified areas of improvement, they roped in the likes of Raju Gaikwad and Narayan Das to beef up their defence besides also signing an exciting young talent in Bright Enobakhare, who took the league by storm with goals in his first two games, including a stunning solo effort that’s contender for goal of the season.

The addition of their new signings and the improvement from players already in the squad like Jacques Maghoma, Matti Steinmann and Anthony Pilkington coincided with them going on a seven-match unbeaten run prior to a narrow 1-0 loss to then league leaders Mumbai City FC. Truth be told, the defeat to the Islanders was also a tad harsh considering the Kolkata club dominated the match for vast stretches.

The slender nature of their losses, in fact, has been a running theme for them this season with the club being very competitive and only getting edged as opposed to being dominated during most of their losses. Their competitiveness has seen them lose just two matches after their first five games and there were plenty of occasions where they could have converted a few of their draws into wins with a bit of luck.

That said, it wasn’t to be and SC East Bengal now find themselves out of the semi-finals, while their arch-rivals sit on top of the standings. However, none of that will matter when the two Kolkata giants collide at the Fatorda Stadium. Billed as the biggest game in Indian football, like most derbies, the Kolkata derby is a match where form and league position go out of the window with the result often at the mercy of the footballing gods.

More than points, pride and bragging rights will be at stake on Friday. An emotionally charged contest where a single flashpoint can alter the course of the contest, SC East Bengal will be gunning to put a spanner in the works of ATK Mohun Bagan as far as the latter’s table-topping aspirations at the end of the league stage are concerned. And yes, they can beat big teams, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC will vouch for that. With semi-finals no longer within their grasps and a quietly confident and transformed team raring to put things to rights, nothing will satisfy SC East Bengal and their fans more than getting one over on the old enemy.

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