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I-League 2023-24: Title hopes, relegation threat & more to follow in Round 23

Published at :March 21, 2024 at 6:57 PM
Modified at :March 21, 2024 at 6:57 PM
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A loss for NEROCA FC might confirm their relegation to I-League 2.

It’s the business end of the I-League 2023-24 season, and we are nearing the stage where the pictures are getting clearer about who could win the title and who could get relegated to I-League 2. With about four rounds to go in the I-League, we take a look at the upcoming matches.

Last Chance Saloon 

By any objective rational metric, it would be tough to imagine Mohammedan Sporting losing the title and their promotion hopes now, with a mere three rounds to play. But football does not employ rational objective metrics. Mohammedan travel to Kashmir hoping they can ride out what is, on paper, their toughest remaining challenge.

Real Kashmir have not secured a win in their last three games. (Image Source: I-League)

A win will be a huge result and in the context of the chasing pack, a body blow, from which they cannot hope to recover. If Real Kashmir can somehow shock them as they did in January this year, then expect a thrilling final few weeks of the league. The home team is unbeaten in five, but have not been able to secure a win for their last three games. No better time to get one than against opposition they have already upset this season.

Clinging on Hope 

When cold, hard analysts look at this season of the I-League a few months from now, they will undoubtedly highlight the number of times Sreenidi Deccan have self-destructed their title and promotion hopes. The team from Hyderabad’s inconsistent form has been their bane this season.

Each time they put together a small streak of results they come apart when faced with decent opposition. On form, Churchill should be easy to put away, but Sreenidi will need to dig in to do it, against a side that is playing the spoiler if not the outright party killer. If they lose, they can wave any title hopes goodbye.

Sangai Derby’s Last Dance

At the time of writing, NEROCA and TRAU occupy the bottom spots on the table, and a loss for the former may well confirm their relegation from the league they have thrilled for half a decade. There remains a very slim chance that TRAU could yet save themselves — they are 11 points behind their nearest rivals Aizawl and have one game in hand — but it seems unlikely.

In any case, this will be the last time fans see the Sangai derby being played in the I-League, at least for a year, and while it isn’t happening at the Khuman Lampak, it is still going to produce fireworks. The teams that survive this relegation will do well to learn from the two Manipur clubs who have honed youth, produced strong talent and yet ultimately burned out in a tough season for all.

Best of the Rest

The last time Inter Kashi and Shillong Lajong met, the former were languishing in the bottom half and Lajong were basking in the top four. A win for Inter Kashi started a run of form that catapulted them to the top half of the table. They are now unbeaten in eight, and each of those games has been a thriller.

For Lajong, the end of the season cannot be sooner. The shine of the return has worn off, and yet they can salvage a lot of pride with just some smart results. A win against Inter Kashi will see them make a late surge for the top five, a commendable performance on their return to the league.

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