Mohun Bagan to take on East Bengal in a prestige fight
Kolkata: Beleaguered Mohun Bagan would look to exorcise the ghosts of December 9 as they take on East Bengal in the return-leg I-League derby here tomorrow.
The two teams will renew their rivalry two months after Yuba Bharati Krirangan witnessed ugly scenes during the ill-fated first-leg fixture with Mohun Bagan staging a walkout leading to a three-year ban that was later overturned by the AIFF.
In the context of I-League, Mohun Bagan cannot match East Bengal who are vying for the title, perched at the pole position. Rather, they are striving to avoid relegation after the AIFF had docked their points in first 10 rounds.
A win against their arch-rivals after the December 9 fiasco would act as a tonic for Mohun Bagan who have 12 matches in the battle for survival.
The rhythm that was eluding them for long may just be coming their way after their inspiring 3-1 win over ONGC in the last round that marked the return of ace striker Odafa Okolie.
Not just the return of Odafa, but the win had lifted the morale of the club with the way the Nigerian struck a chord with Aussie forward Tolgay Ozbey, something that coach Karim Bencherifa would look up to in their most important match.
"They are our key players and the team strategy will obviously centre around them," the coach said today.
The Moroccan urged the fans not to look at the points tally as it gave a misleading picture with Mohun Bagan five points from 14 matches.
"We have actually logged five points from four matches. I think that`s good enough. We are progressing gradually. There is no added pressure on us and everybody is raring to go for the big match," he added.
Aiming to win their maiden I-League title, last two years` runners-up East Bengal (39 from 19 matches) would look to avoid a slip up at the crucial stage, with Churchill Brothers (38 points out of 17 matches) closely behind them.
"We have to keep up the momentum and the players know how crucial it is at this stage," East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan said at the team practice.
Former East Bengal forward Tolgay might be coming to his elements as was seen in the last match, but Morgan said, "He is a good player but at the same time we know what his weakness is..."
East Bengal will have their key man Uga Okpara to marshall the backline that has conceded only 11 goals from 19 matches this season.
But their key man will be Edeh Chidi who was the toast of the Mohun Bagan when he scored four goals in a remarkable 5-3 victory over their rivals in this fixture in 2009.
"If we want to win the title, we must beat them. You may call it pressure, but this is also a motivation for us," Chidi said.
East Bengal will miss out on the suspended Manandeep Singh while Robin Singh has a slight niggle in his knee though the tall Delhi lad was seen at today`s practice.