The I-League returns after the New Year break and Gokulam Kerala FC (GKFC), which played its last match in the league on December 16, will play host to sixth-placed Aizawl FC in Kozhikode on Saturday.
What seems to be a mid-table clash can prove to be a boost for both teams as a win can take one of them into the top three temporarily. Gokulam Kerala will be glad that it will have Andre Ettienne back in defence after a one-game suspension. It is safe to say that the Kerala outfit felt his absence as it went down 2-1 against Mohun Bagan in Kalyani before the long break.
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Speaking before the match GKFC head coach Santiago Varela said: “The team has a great mentality, strength of overcoming and character, these factors make us strong and we will feel it on the pitch. While we made some mistakes against Mohun Bagan, we also had many options to tie and made a very good second half. We have high morale because we defend and we will always defend our style of play to make the people of Kerala proud of us.”
Aizawl, which has played two matches more than the home team, has a win and three draws to its name. It has been scoring goals but its defence has often let it down.
Youngsters like William Lalnunfela and Rochharzela have led the attacking unit from the front and have been amongst the goals. The challenge though in front of Aizawl gaffer Stanley Rosario will be to find a way of not conceding goals.
Stanley looked confident before the match. He stated: “In the last three matches that we have played at home, we have drawn all of them. It is unfortunate that in spite of creating so many chances we couldn’t finish the game. I believe we need a little bit of luck, the match against Punjab would have ended in our favour if the last-minute handball wasn’t given. But you can’t do much about it, we have to respect the decision.”
He also stressed that he is really happy with the performance of his players and said, “Overall I am happy with the performance of my players (6 points in 5 matches) but we have to win the upcoming matches to move upwards in the points table. I want my players to go with a winning mentality and show character and commitment.”
TRAU hosts Punjab
Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) FC will host Punjab FC at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium on Saturday. TRAU has had a tough I-League debut, struggling in the bottom of the table after four fixtures.
TRAU registered its solitary point against Real Kashmir FC in its previous match, where the Tiddim Road outfit displayed great character to come back from a goal down to score twice in a space of four minutes, only to be denied all three points by a Mason Robertson equaliser.
It displayed the same resilience against East Bengal, where it almost earned a point away from home at the Kalyani, but Marti Crespi scored an 89th minute winner to spoil its party.
If those performances are anything to go by, TRAU does have some upsets in store in its arsenal and going by its recent resurgence, Punjab could be in for a tricky away outing in Imphal.
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“It’s a difficult situation for us, and we all know that. We’ve set out lot of plans to overturn the situation but only victory can do that for us. We need nothing less than three points in our upcoming games," said Princewill Emeka, captain of TRAU.
Punjab FC struggled away from home in its last match against Aizawl FC but was awarded a penalty deep into stoppage time, which was converted by Sergio Barboza junior.
The Ludhiana outfit, however, still remains one of the contenders for the coveted crown, and sits in second place, with goal difference separating them from the summit.
Punjab FC head coach Yan Law Punjab FC has already earned his reputation in the league with the sublime win against Chennai City FC and by using Dipanda Dicka in a completely new role.
“The boys have been doing well so far and we are in good momentum now. Second in the table is very good considering the bad start to our campaign.
“We are scoring many goals and also conceding unnecessary ones. We are working on strengthening our team defending so that it does not cost us valuable points as we are surely title contender.”