Kozhikode: A couple of days ago Mohun Bagan would have already played their last match and returned home after the direction-less run they have had this term.
But a hat-trick of wins and the undefeated streak on the road also helped by the faltering of other title favourites meant the Mariners are once again back into the reckoning but must-win against Gokulam Kerala in their final encounter at the EMS Corporation Stadium here on Thursday.
Although a victory is must, it however does not guarantee Bagan the title and they will have to depend on favours from others to decide their fate. After 17 games — six of which were draws ( three at home) and three defeats — the Mariners stand on 30 points currently trailing Neroca and Minerva Punjab by one and two points respectively.
The equation is a little tricky for them. If Mohun Bagan end on same points (33) with East Bengal, they’ll edge the Red & Golds courtesy their superior head-to-head record. Meanwhile, if Minerva Punjab FC and both the Kolkata outfits end their campaign with same points (33), still the Mariners would make merry, thanks to their better head-to-head records taking all three teams into consideration.
But despite the title at stake, coach Sankarlal Chakraborty played down expectations and asked his boys to focus on the match.
“I always tell the players to focus on the match and not on the title. We prefer to go match by match and it’ll be same tomorrow. The aim is to win maximum points. Then, God knows what is the situation,” said the former Bagan assistant who was elevated at the helm after previous coach Sanjoy Sen stepped down following a shock 1-2 defeat to Chennai City at home.
Gokulam though won’t be an easy task. Despite their most recent 1-3 defeat to Aizawl, the Malabarians remain the only I-League team to have defeated three of the four title contenders this term — they defeated Bagan, Minerva and East Bengal in consecutive matches.
“A win is a must for us tomorrow to play super cup. It is a super climax in I-League. Relegation battle for Churchill, super six battle for Gokulam and four other teams playing for the title,” said Bino George, the head coach of Gokulam Kerala according to a press release.
Having already defeated the Mariners 2-1 when they both squarred-off at the former’s home, Gokulam is confident of causing one more shock. “Mohun Bagan is a big team but for us, we play with our heart especially tomorrow’s game. We are very well prepared,” added George.
Gokulam are currently seventh in the table with 20 points from 17 matches and are immune to relegation.