The Mariners are winless in their last two games.
It could be the last opportunity for both former champions Mohun Bagan and defending champions Minerva Punjab, if their title aspirations are to be kept alive, as they come face to face in a 12th Hero I-League game at Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, in a return leg fixture.
Hosts Bagan are sixth, while the champions are placed a rung lower in the 11-team league, their campaigns derailed in recent times and both go into the game on the back of demoralising defeats.
Bagan, in fact, have replaced Sankarlal Chakraborty, who resigned after the last defeat against Real Kashmir and have brought in Khalid Jamil as coach in a desperate attempt to revive their fortunes.
The Kuwait-born Mumbai-based gaffer, who famously steered Aizawl FC to an I-League win two years ago, has barely had a day on the job before such a crucial clash.
In his first press-chat as Mohun Bagan Head Coach, Khalid Jamil stressed on the need to keep things simple saying, “It is the first match for me and it is a big challenge to get a good start. We are only thinking about a positive start. We are not thinking about the past but about tomorrow, and will be giving our best. I will be keeping it simple, not many changes and thinking positive.”
Minerva, under Irish coach Paul Munster, have just not gotten going this season, reflected in their socring record of having struck just six times in 11 games.
It is not for trying though, and Paul has tried out enough player-combinations but none seems to have given the dividends he would have liked, on evidence available so far.
He seemed to be more concerned about Bagan’s new coach brining in new tactics, saying in the pre-game presser, “It’s a new coach. When a new coach comes in, the players want to impress the new coach. So, it is a motivation for them. We are aware of Mohun Bagan and we know how they play. New coach, he may make new decisions, new tactics, maybe different players playing.”
He also disclosed that his premiere marksman might be injured for the game adding, “We have only two foreigners playing in defence, as others are injured. Both teams are in the same situation, similar in the league positions as well.”
Bagan will be the more confident of the two sides, given they won against Minerva in the first leg and also have won three of their last five encounters.
However, Bagan have not had a good run at the VYBK this year and Minerva will try and take heart from their win against the other Kolkata giants Quess East Bengal at the same venue earlier in the season.
William Opoku had scored in that game and Minerva will surely miss him on Wednesday.
Mohun Bagan’s defence, having conceded 14 in 11 games, are not the most compact in the league and Minerva will want to take full advantage of that, with some young and talented Indian attackers in their ranks.
Given the context, a tight contest is surely on the cards with both teams having enough fire-power to log three points on their day.
The Mariners do not have any major injuries in their squad, however, they are expected to go through several changes to compensate the new head coach, Khalid Jamil’s philosophy.
The Warriors will only have two of their foreigners available for selection against Mohun Bagan.
The game kicks off at 2 PM IST on Wednesday at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. The game will be streamed live on Hotstar and Jio TV.