THE RECENT drizzle has brought the mercury down but two days ahead of the 13th round I-League encounter against leaders Dempo, East Bengal are anything but comfortably numb.
More than their ninth position in the League table, it is the spate of injuries that is keeping coach Manoranjan Bhattacharya worried. Since taking charge of the beleaguered side last week, he hasn't had a full squad to pick from. "I will be missing some key players against Dempo as well," said Manoranjan, who missed Edmilson Marques, Ashim Biswas, Jayanta Sen and M. Suresh against Mohun Bagan on Monday.
While Edmilson has recovered from a hip injury, the rest are ruled out. In addition, Saumik Dey is doubtful with a lower abdomen injury and Mehrajuddin Wadao is booked out. Mehrajuddin and Jayanta's not playing robs East Bengal of vital service at the heart of the midfield. "Those two have been crucial to the team and we now have to find an alternative," said the former India and East Bengal defender.
"Their (Dempo's) strength lies in their familiarity. The players have been around for some years and they know each other's strengths and weaknesses," said the East Bengal coach.
Despite the loss of regular coach Armando Colaco - he is recovering from a road accident - or the League's first defeat against Mahindra United, Manoranjan felt Dempo remain the team to beat. "But then, the defeat has also shown that they are not invincible."
Stand-in coach Mauricio Afonso would rather consider the loss to Mahindra United as an isolated incident. "Even teams like Arsenal get hammered 1-5 by Spurs," he said.
Since joining Dempo in 2001, this will be the first time that Afonso will be in independent charge of the team in the League. He successfully guided Goa to the Santosh Trophy title in 2005 and now has arduous the task of taking Dempo to the inaugural I-League crown. "That won't be too much of a problem since I would be following the system put in place by Armando," said the former India captain who expects the boys to make his job easier.
Barring injuries to Valeriano Rebello, Peter Carvalho and Jerry Zirsanga, Afonso doesn't have much to worry about. Midfielders Roberto Silva and Climax Lawrence have recovered from fever and will be keen to extend the lead at the top of the table after JCT narrowed it to two points.