I-League: East Bengal to take on Air India

Kolkata: East Bengal will look to recover from an embarrassing defeat in their previous match as they face Air India in their final-round match of the I-League first-leg at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Monday.

Their 0-4 defeat to Salgaocar in Goa was marked by a send-off for their playmaker Mehtab Hussain, something that led to an ugly dressing room scuffle with fellow forward Tolgay Ozbey.

The team thinktank may be insisting that the spat was no big deal but it remains to be seen whether the team manages to come out from the shadow.

Coach Trevor Morgan insisted that it would not have any bearing on the side.

"Such things happen... I don`t think this is the first one and neither will this be the last," the Englishman said.

"The boys are focussed and it`s an important match for us. We are keen to get full points."

Incidentally, the errant duo seemed to put the past behind as they were seen dining together with family on the New Year`s eve.

Placed fourth, behind bitter foes Mohun Bagan (24), in the table, last year`s runners-up East Bengal (23) will be desperate to put their campaign back on winning track and avoid further slip-up before the return and last leg of the marathon I-League.

There will be no Hussain but the home heavyweights will be bolstered by the return of their main defender Uga Okpara, the burly Nigerian whose suspension in the previous round had cost East Bengal badly.

Ozbey had a minor niggle and opted out of practice this morning but the East Bengal forward insisted that he would be fit for the match.

But East Bengal have tricky opponents in Air India to face.

The Santosh Kashyap-coached side have been the surprise package this season as they dislodged four-time champions Dempo from the pole position with a 2-0 stunner.

It came from a side that had sunk to a 0-14 loss to the same team in last season.

With the win over Dempo, Air India enjoyed a hattrick of victories but only to be stopped in their last round here against Mohun Bagan.

Lying sixth with 19 points, the Mumbai outfit would look to put a stiff resistance in the path of East Bengal.

Young Manandeep Singh and Nigerian Henry Ezeh have been impressive for Air India this season and they would look forward to their exploits once again.