I-League: Mohun Bagan, East Bengal eye title ascendancy (Preview)

Siliguri (West Bengal), April 1 (IANS) Chart-toppers Mohun Bagan will brace up against eternal rivals East Bengal in a potential title deciding football derby showdown in the I-league at the Kanchenjunga Stadium here on Saturday.

The match, apart from being a traditional prestige fight, has added significance since the gap between the league leaders Mohun Bagan and the third placed East Bengal are a mere five points. East Bengal (20 points from 11 matches) have a game in hand but desperately need three points.

The much-hyped match is set to be played outside the city after a long time as the two Kolkata giants’ usual home ground, the Salt Lake stadium, is unavailable due to renovation aimed at the Under-17 FIFA World Cup that India is to host in 2017.

Mohun Bagan are coming to the match on the back of a 1-2 defeat away against Aizawl FC and are also under pressure to win since second placed Bengaluru will be level on points with them should they win against Mumbai FC in a home match, also on Saturday.

The two teams are sweating over the availability of their key players. Mohun Bagan’s attacking trump card Haitian Sony Norde has reportedly returned from his international commitments with a knee injury.

They will continue to miss the services of their influential coach Sanjoy Sen, who saw his suspension for misconduct imposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) reduced from eight to four matches. He has swerved two matches already but needs two sit out of two more to serve out his punishment.

East Bengal have battled inconsistency and squabbling among team members throughout the season and coach Biswajit Bhattacharya would be hoping his team rises to the occasion.

His star player, Bernard Mendy has been his biggest headache, as the unfit Frenchman is still struggling to attain full fitness to start the match.

Bhattacharya is willing to wait on him till the 11th hour to include him in the starting line-up as his other foreigner South Korean Do Doong-Hyun has sunk into oblivion in the I-league since his headline-grabbing brace in the Calcutta Football League derby.

The mentality of both teams could be the determining factor in the final derby of the season as both coaches could opt for caution over aggression to avoid defeat, a move which could play into the hands of the third team in the trifecta, Bengaluru.

The match will also serve as an emotional homage to the people who lost their lives in the Kolkata flyover collapse on Thursday with the players wearing black armbands to show their support for the victims and observing a minute’s silence.

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