Their title hopes in tatters, East Bengal will aim to at least gain a few places on the table with a win against former champions Punjab FC in their I-League match in Kalyani on Thursday.

Having endured five losses from six matches this year, the Kolkata giants have slipped to 10th in the 11-team table as their 16-year wait for an I-League title is all but over.

The latest set-back came against Aizawl FC when East Bengal suffered a 0-1 defeat on February 7, a second successive loss under coach Mario Rivera who was appointed midway into the season after Alejandro Menendez stepped down following a hat-trick of defeats.

The lack of an in-form striker has been another problem which the team is going through with Marcos Jimenez de la Espada not being able to live up to his reputation and Ansumana Kromah not finding enough match-time.

“The planning is to work very hard, improve our level of defence and attack. We need to focus on each match and not think too ahead of ourselves,” Rivera said on the eve of the match.

Second-placed Punjab FC, on the other hand, lost to Mohun Bagan in the city, their first defeat in last five matches, in their last round fixture and they will also look to return to winning ways and revive their fortunes.

Punjab face a big task of bridging a nine-point gap with Mohun Bagan but they would look to keep their hopes alive.

For Punjab capatin Sanju Pradhan, Thursday’s match will be a homecoming of sorts as he was a part of the Red and Gold brigade in the past seasons.

“It has been so far so good with Punjab FC. I believe the season has been panning out well but it could have been better if we did not commit some small mistakes at crucial moments. We still have nine matches remaining and the objective is to take as many points as we can from them and not drop points easily,” Pradhan said.

“I am very excited to play against East Bengal. Every time I get a chance to play against them, I have to mentally prepare myself. This is a club from where I got my fame in Indian football. The supporters of the club still love me. But it is football, so we have to ensure that we give our 100% to make it a spectacle for the supporters,” he added.