Bengaluru looking to end Mumbai hoodoo

Mumbai FC has been more than a banana skin for Bengaluru FC. In five matches thus far, it hasn’t beaten Mumbai even once (four draws and one loss).

Bengaluru FC team members train at the Bangalore Football Stadium ahead of the I-League match against Mumbai FC.   -  K. Murali Kumar

When Bengaluru FC last played an I-league match on home turf more than a month ago, it was essential for it to kick-start a run. It was entering the second half of the league on the back of a tumultuous few weeks and a slip or two would have sent it crashing down.

In three games since then, with two wins and a draw, it has indeed managed a run and is firmly saddled between the traditional powerhouses Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in second place (22 points). As it takes on Mumbai FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday, its primary job will be to remain in the mix of what increasingly looks like a three-way fight to the title.

“We have only ever planned for what’s in front of us,” said coach Ashley Westwood. “To be honest we are not looking far ahead. What we can do is win our next game and see what happens elsewhere. It’s getting tight. But towards the end of the cups we have always been in and around. As long as we can keep the season alive, we will be happy with that.”

But Mumbai has been more than a banana skin for Bengaluru. In five matches thus far, it hasn’t beaten Mumbai even once (four draws and one loss).

“There is no problem really,” Westwood explained. “It’s a bit of coincidence. Quite a few times we have played well. Conceded early in a few. Gone behind early then done enough to get back but not enough to win. They are hard to break down if they score an early goal. They make it difficult, which is their style. So hopefully we don’t go a goal behind.”

The Mumbai camp too didn’t seem to be dwelling much on the past but its current position in the league (seventh) demands that it clings on to every little hope.

“We are not thinking of what happened in the past,” said the team’s assistant coach Henry Picardo. “Bengaluru is one of the strongest teams and we have come here to fight for every ball. We have a good team on paper but unfortunately we had some injuries. During this spell we had a lot of games and that was a big setback.”

Now though Mumbai has a fully fit squad while Bengaluru is still assessing skipper Sunil Chhetri’s fitness after a groin injury forced him out of India’s World Cup qualifiers. But it could welcome midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh back after a more than two month-long hiatus.