Kolkata, Feb 28 (IANS): Arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan clash in Round 19 of the I-League at the Salt Lake Stadium here Saturday.
Both Kolkata giants come into this fixture on the back of poor form as each side has failed to win their last four matches in all competitions. Additionally they have only picked up a point each from their two matches after the near two-month break in I-League.
The two clubs are level on points but East Bengal have played four games less and thus still have a realistic chance of challenging for the title. However the red-and-gold brigade suffered a big setback last weekend as they were beaten 0-1 by Dempo in Goa.
A win against the fierce-rivals though could give them the confidence for the rest of the campaign and they have the added incentive of doing the double over Mohun Bagan for the first time in the I-League.
Armando Colaco’s side won 1-0 earlier in the season but interestingly that result didn’t really bring any consistency that is so vital for a title contender as they have only managed two wins from seven I-League games since that derby in November.
“Here every match is a derby. But for me, Mohun Bagan is the only derby considered. Winning it the first time was good and now I am looking forward again. The players are eager to play but I hope they recover from injuries and I have to deal with a suspension as well,” Colaco said.
Nigerian centre-back Uga Okpara will be unavailable due to injury while central defender Gurwinder Singh is suspended. However, striker Edeh Chidi is expected to be fit.
For Mohun Bagan the priority is to stay clear of relegation as they are seven points ahead of rock-bottom Rangdajied but the Mariners have played an extra fixture and still have to face the Shillong club away from home.
The green-and-maroon brigade are enduring a fourth straight trophy-less season and threw away two points by conceding a late equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Churchill Brothers last week.
But they will be encouraged by the fact that they beat East Bengal 1-0 in the most recent derby, in Calcutta Football League (CFL) in January.
“This is by far the biggest game in Indian football. No one can understand the feeling you go through unless you are involved in it. Personally I wish we had more games like the derby in the I-League -- fans, intensity, rivalry, emotions, coverage,” Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa stated.
Bencherifa is expected to be without his skipper Odafa Okolie, who still hasn’t fully recovered from his injury, but another Nigerian striker Christopher Chizoba is set for his derby debut.
Like any big Kolkata derby, this should be another exciting and unpredictable contest with both rivals desperate for maximum points to revive their season.