East Bengal's debut season in the Indian Super League (ISL) ended on a disappointing note on Saturday as Robbie Fowler's men slumped to a 6-5 loss against bottom-placed Odisha FC.
The result saw the Red and Golds end their campaign in the ninth place on the table with just 17 points from 20 matches.
"It is disappointing to see the way we finished. We wanted to win. But concentration levels and a poor start to the second half cost us the game," coach Robbie Fowler said after the match.
East Bengal started their final game on the front-foot and took a 2-1 lead into half-time.
Odisha, however, fought back in the second half and a brace each from Paul Ramfangzauva and Jerry Mawihmingthanga saw them go 6-3 ahead.
East Bengal managed to reduce the deficit to 6-5 with two late goals but it wasn't quite enough for them to avoid ending up on the wrong end of an unsavoury ISL record. Welshman Aaron Amadi-Holloway scored two for the Kolkata giants.
The 11-goal affair was the highest-scoring match in ISL history, usurping Chennaiyin FC's 6-3 win over Kerala Blasters FC in 2019-20 and FC Goa’s 5-4 victory against Mumbai City FC in the 2016 season.
It was also only the fifth time a team conceded six goals or more in the ISL since its inception in 2014.
The season, though, had started with a lot of expectations for Fowler’s Red and Golds.
East Bengal, celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2020, had made its transition to the ISL - India's top club football competition - from the I League.
The arrival of former Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler as the team's head coach during pre-season upped the ante even further.
East Bengal’s grand ambitions for their maiden ISL, however, started falling apart as soon as the trials and tribulations began on the football pitch.
Fowler and Co. failed to deliver the desired results this season and managed just three wins, eight draws and nine losses over the course of their maiden campaign in the ISL.
The team ended up conceding 33 goals while scoring just 22 - third-worst defensive and offensive records in the league, respectively.
The bitter ending was only made worse by arch-rivals Mohun Bagan's success this season.
The Mariners, who merged with ATK to form ATK Mohun Bagan, have enjoyed a stellar season and are favourites to finish at the top of the league and clinch a spot in the AFC Champions League.
East Bengal also lost both their highly-anticipated Kolkata Derbies against ATK Mohun Bagan, which is bound to rub salt on what has been a wounding season for the legacy club.
There were very few bright sparks for the Red and Golds this season, with the most notable ones coming from Bright Enobakhare's wonder goals. But at the end of the day, these were too few and far between.
Robbie Fowler, however, remained hopeful and revealed that preparations to set things right next season is already underway.
"The planning has already started. As soon as the season ends, we automatically start planning for the next season. We just did not have enough time this year in terms of preparation.
"With the right recruitment and the right time frame on the training pitches, and with my ideas and methods of the way we want to play, we can do better," Fowler concluded.
It will be interesting to see if East Bengal management retains Fowler - who had been a divisive figure amongst fans - for next season and if he stays, whether the British coach can deliver on his promise for next season.
Lead photo: ISL Media