Punjab FC will host table-toppers Mohun Bagan in a big-ticket I-League clash in Ludhiana on Tuesday.
Punjab FC are placed third while the Kolkata heavyweights are top of the table.
Both sides are on a hot streak with the visitors enjoying a four-game winning run and the hosts are also unbeaten in their last six, setting up what could turn out to be one of the most exciting games of the league so far.
The visitors, however, have a superior 3-1 head-to-head record, with one ending in a stalemate.
The youngest coach of the league, Punjab FC’s Yan Law, while acknowledging Mohun Bagan’s form, stressed on his team’s home record.
“Mohun Bagan is a good team, but playing at home is our advantage. We are very strong and unbeaten in our home pitch.”
He also pointed to Punjab’s unbeaten run saying, “We have had a six-game unbeaten run and this win can take us to the top. We are very confident and have worked very hard.”
Mohun Bagan’s Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna also exuded confidence.
“The game against Punjab is very important to us and the result could have an impact in the title race. It is even more important, going into the derby against East Bengal on Sunday but for now, we are focused on Punjab and we will try to come away with the three points.”
Mohun Bagan have been well served by their Spanish imports with Joseba Beitia in the centre of midfield, Fran Gonzales in the holding midfielder’s role and Fran Morante at the heart of the defense.
Youngsters such as Nongdamba Naorem, Sk. Sahil and Subha Ghosh have also expressed themselves on the pitch, helping Vicuna’s side deliver some eye-catching performances.
Punjab, on the other hand, while remaining unbeaten, have fallen short of crossing the line on more than one occasion.
Brazilian forward Sergis Barbosa and Cameroonian veteran Dipanda Dicka along with talented youngster Makan Chote have been scoring the goals for Punjab.
Neroca host Real Kashmir in must-win match
Winless in their last four matches, Neroca FC host another struggling side Real Kashmir FC in an I-League match in Imphal on Tuesday.
Neroca have made a shaky start to their campaign and currently sit at 10th position in the 11-team league with five points, while Real Kashmir are at ninth. The two sides desperately need a win to come out of the bottom half of the points table.
The orange brigade coached by Gift Raikhan, despite having quality players in their ranks, have found it difficult to gel as a cohesive unit. Boubacar Diarra and Zico Sekle have displayed sparks of their brilliance upfront but have struggled to score goals.
In the midfield, Chanso Horam and Gaty Kouami have acted as a dependable pivot when on the pitch together, but other permutations have been preferred over the pair at times.
They have come into Tuesday’s match after their 1-2 defeat against TRAU FC in the first-ever Imphal derby.
“When there is defeat, there is always a disappointment. It should serve as a lesson for the next derby. For now, we have to look ahead to the next game, and work hard towards earning three points,” Neroca forward Boubacar Diarra said ahead of Tuesday’s match.
“We have to take Real Kashmir seriously. They have tall players and play long balls. We will take precautions and proceed with small passes and counterattacks.”
The ‘Snow Leopards’ have scored four headed goals this season, which validates Diarra’s observation. However, the Srinagar-based side have come into the match with a win and a draw in their last two matches, thus dropping five points, making Tuesday’s fixture a must-win for them.
Commenting on what has been lacking in his side this season, head coach David Robertson said, “We have been playing very well as a team. We are not getting the results we need but we are creating a lot of chances on goal, just not finishing them.
“Neroca are an incredible club and have great quality players. So it will not be easy we just need to stay focused and stick to the game plan,” he said.