I-League: Mohun Bagan's winning streak under threat, visits Churchill

Mohun Bagan has been on a roll this season notching up nine wins from 12 games in the I-League. On Saturday, it takes on Churchill Brothers away from home.

Spaniard Fran Gonzalez, who plays as a centre-back, is the joint league top-scorer with nine goals.   -  AIFF MEDIA

In a way, it could be termed as a grudge match for table-topper Mohun Bagan as it takes on Churchill Brothers at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao on Saturday.

The visitor from Kolkata has been on a roll this I-League season, notching up nine wins from 12 games to comfortably lead the points table with 29 points, eight-points clear of second-placed Punjab FC.

However, its only loss came at the hands of Churchill. The Red Machines outgunned the Green and Maroons in a high-scoring encounter back in December in the early stages of the league at the Kalyani Stadium.

READ | I-League 2019-20: Points table, goals scored, goals difference

The visiting gaffer Kibu Vicuna understandably tried to play down the talk of any unfinished business ahead of the game saying, “It is only a football match. We will face the game with the same desire as other games. We know that Churchill are a good team with very good players and playing in their stadium is going to be a tough challenge for us.”

That desire has translated to five wins on the trot in recent times with an enviable five-man attack line of former La Liga and Senegalese striker Papa Diawara, VP Suhair, dynamic youngster Nongdamba Naorem, Tajik playmaker Komron Tursunov and Spanish midfield general Joseba Beitia, firing on all cylinders.

Vicuna, who was adjudged to be the Manager of the Month in January, seemed to be enjoying his team’s winning combination.

“Yes, the team, management, fans love it (winning). The players are also enjoying their performance and that’s important. Every game is equally important for us. Our performance against Neroca has given us more confidence and boys are focused to get another positive result tomorrow.”

The leadership and scoring prowess of yet another Spaniard Fran Gonzalez, who has a league-leading nine goals under his belt so far, will surely give Churchill’s Portuguese coach Bernardo Tavarez a sleepless night before his men face the leader on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of the game, he said, ”It’s been a good run for us. The two wins against Aizawl and Real Kashmir have given us a lot of confidence, which we will take forward to our next game against Mohun Bagan. They are the league leaders for a reason, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”

The Red Machines will also take heart from the fact that they have not been too much behind Bagan in the goal-scoring charts.

On being referred to the fact, Tavares brushed it aside completely, “We know that they are now a stronger team than the one we defeated because they have strengthened in some positions.”

They’re currently placed second in the scoring charts with 21 goals with many a scorer finding the target time and again to churn out crucial results during the ongoing league.

The wiry Trinidadian leader, Willis Plaza, has not been as prolific as last year but still has seven to his name and has scored on crucial occasions. This year he has also received more than enough support from the likes of Lalkhawpuimawia (4), Radanfa Abu Bakr (3), Robert Primus (2) and Vinil Pujary (2) among others.

The Portuguese gaffer ratified the same, “We have played well up front, we’ve created several goalscoring opportunities in every game and that makes me confident.”

He further added, “In some games, we’ve made some mistakes in defensive transition and the defensive process, especially in the last few minutes of matches, which has cost us points in some games. We know that if we improve those defensive aspects and improve our attacking effectiveness, it will be easier to win our next games.”

While a win for the Mariners will give them an 11-point lead at the top, an opposite result will see the Red Machines leapfrog Punjab to the second spot, closing the gap with Mohun Bagan to seven points.

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