Mohun Bagan have a chance to win the Hero I-League title on the final matchday of a stunning season of football but they will be up against giant-killers Gokulam Kerala at the EMS Stadium on Thursday (March 8, 2018).
A few weeks ago, Minerva Punjab were comfortably occupying the top of the league table but the race for ultimate glory has turned on its head and all of the top four teams on the table have a genuine shot at clinching the trophy.
The top four teams are separated by just three points and Mohun Bagan are third with 30 points from 17 games. The Kolkata-based club have the same points tally as their rivals East Bengal but boast a better head to head record. Above Bagan are NEROCA FC (31 points) and Minerva Punjab (32 points).
A win at the EMS Corporation Stadium and a win for the Red Machines against Minerva is enough for the Mariners to seal their second I-League title in four years. On the other hand, a win for NEROCA FC will pour cold water on the Mariners’ title dream.
If Mohun Bagan end on same points (33) with Kingfisher East Bengal, they’ll edge the Red & Golds courtesy their superior head-to-head record. Meanwhile, if Minerva Punjab FC and both the Kolkata outfits end their campaign with same points (33), still the Mariners would make it merry, thanks to their better head-to-head records taking all three teams into consideration.
“This match here will be the toughest out of the three. Gokulam are a very good side,” claimed Sankarlal Chakraborty, the head coach of Mohun Bagan. “I always tell the players to focus on the match but not on the title. We prefer to go match by match and it’ll be same tomorrow. The aim is to win maximum points. Then, God knows what is the situation.”
Having had a turbulent season full of ups and downs, Bagan head coach knows that there is pressure to win. “If you play or coach at a club like Mohun Bagan, there will be pressure. All over the world, the big teams have pressure.”
Sankarlal also believes that their opponents are a side full of potential capable of beating any team on their day. “I am not surprised (by Gokulam Kerala’s results). When Gokulam beat us at home, the press and supporters expressed that it is unfortunate that Mohun Bagan lost. But, they are one of the best teams in the league.
After they beat us, they beat East Bengal and Minerva. They beat all the championship contenders. That means they have the potential. They have a very good defence. They are a very young side and now are in a very good condition. Winning matches have put them in good stead.”
A win for Bagan and favourable results in the other two matches which are scheduled to kick-off at the exact same time will get them past the glorious finish line but their opponents know a thing or two about causing upsets.
After defeating Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Minerva Punjab within the space of a week and rightly earning the tag of ‘giant-killers’, Gokulam Kerala are hoping to end their debut season in I-League strongly. They are currently seventh on the table with 20 points from 17 games and a win against Bagan will secure the sixth spot, displacing Shillong Lajong (22 points) and giving them a direct entry to the final round of the Super Cup.
“A win is a must for us tomorrow to play super cup. It is a super climax in I-League. Relegation battle for Churchill, super six battle for Gokulam and four other teams playing for the title,” said Bino George, the head coach of Gokulam Kerala.
“Mohun Bagan is a big team but for us, we play with our heart especially tomorrow’s game. We are very well prepared, all of them are fit, Arjun is the only ‘maybe’ in the squad right now. Arjun Jayaraj is a real gem of our team.”
Youngster Arjun Jayaraj has impressed for Bino George’s team and the coach will be hoping that he is fit to start their final home league game of the season. Gokulam Kerala’s seven-game unbeaten run was brought to an end by Aizawl in their last game which ended 1-3 in favour of the defending champions.
Since their defeat against Gokulam Kerala FC on 12th February at their home, Mohun Bagan have registered three successive wins. The combination of Alajmi and Kisekka caused late a nightmare in Kolkata but can Bagan turn it around on the last matchday to stand a chance to secure the coveted Hero I-League trophy?
The much-awaited kick-off is at 03:00 PM IST and the match will be streamed live on Hotstar.
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