Punjab FC and Real Kashmir will look to consolidate their positions in the top four and keep their title hopes alive when they clash in an I-League fixture at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on Sunday.
Punjab will be coming into this fixture on the back of a disappointing trip to Kolkata, having picked up just one point out of a possible six against runaway leaders Mohun Bagan and struggling East Bengal.
The solitary point return has allowed the Mariners to leave behind the chasing pack, sitting at the top with 11 points clear of the Yan Law-coached team in second place.
However, Yan Law said the race for the I-League crown isn’t over yet.
“Honestly, the league has gotten tougher. Every team has started picking up pace. Although we are placed second, the gap between us and the league leaders is quite big but we haven’t lost any hope yet. We are going to keep working hard and keep fighting to close the gap between us and Mohun Bagan,” he said.
“The title race is still wide open. Kashmir are doing well and have picked up valuable points in their last couple of games. They are going to come and play us with high confidence.”
The last meeting between the two sides ended in a 1-1 draw and Yan Law believes that his side have some unfinished business.
“We are surely going to give them a tough time as we were not satisfied with the draw with them in the first leg,” he said.
Coming into this fixture after an eight-day break, Real Kashmir will leapfrog Punjab to second in the table should they win but the visitors will be wary of the challenges an away trip to Ludhiana brings.
“Ludhiana is a tough place to travel to but the break has given us time to prepare. We got back to Srinagar for a few days to practice, so we have made the most of our interval,” said David Robertson, head coach of Real Kashmir FC.
The Snow Leopards have suffered just one away defeat in all their I-League matches so far, going back to their debut in the 2017-18 season and Robertson has taken note of the statistics.
“Home advantage is always there to play a crucial role no matter who it is. But, we take confidence in the fact we have only lost only one away league game in I-League so far.
“We played Aizawl in our last game, who were unbeaten at home, and managed to get all three points. Having said that, we know Punjab are a good team and are second in the league for a reason,” the Scot said.
TRAU and CCFC look to bounce back
Tiddim Road Athletic Union and defending champions Chennai City FC will look to return to winning ways when they clash in an I-League match at Khuman Lumpak Stadium in Imphal on Sunday.
TRAU and Chennai City are currently separated by just a point, placed sixth (15 points) and eighth (14 points) respectively.
The home side have turned plenty of eyes in their debut season in the top-flight, but have seen their momentum fizzle out following the dismissal of coach Dimitris Dimitriou.
TRAU suffered a 0-5 hammering at the hands of city-rivals Neroca before losing again in its subsequent away trip to Aizawl. A third defeat in a row could possibly derail its campaign.
However, TRAU captain Princewill Emeka was upbeat ahead of the game and said, “We are, of course, disappointed to have lost two games in a row but you look at our team and you will see players who are ready for any challenge that comes their way.
“The defeat will not be on the back of our heads when we’ll go to fight against Chennai City. We have shown what we are capable of as a team. It won’t be easy against the defending champions, but we are ready,” he said.
Chennai City began their I-League title defence against TRAU on the opening weekend, winning 1-0 in Coimbatore. They had a nervy spell where they found themselves in a relegation scrap but climbed back into the top four with two back-to-back wins over Indian Arrows and Churchill Brothers.
Their hopes of getting back in the title race, however, received a jolt when they lost 0-1 to Gokulam Kerala in the southern derby.
Head coach Akbar Nawas is not yet prepared to give up on the title chase.
“Realistically, we are still not giving up on the title chase until it is mathematically impossible. We did well in the last game despite not getting the win but against TRAU, I am confident. They like to play too. It will be interesting,” he said.
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