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Trial by fire for Bagan

india Updated: Jan 20, 2007 00:32 IST
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It is not unusual for Mohun Bagan to play Air India with one of them at the bottom and the other second in the standings, and that too only because of an inferior goal difference. Till it is pointed out that Mohun Bagan are bringing up the rear this time around.

With a goal difference of -5, the three-time champions are a notch below Hindustan Aeronautic Limited (HAL), both having one point from a 0-0 draw in Bangalore.

On the other hand, Air India, who Mohun Bagan host at the Barasat stadium on Saturday in a fourth round ONGC 11th National Football League tie, have seven points, three of them secured from a 1-0 victory over East
Bengal.

Add a host of injuries to a roster thin on confidence and it is obvious that the 117-year-old club is up against it. Central defender Mehrajuddin Wadao saying he has been forced to return to the XI despite not being fit is certainly not the sort of pre-match comment Mohun Bagan would like to hear. Especially with Bhaichung Bhutia struggling with a boil and Eduardo Coelho, Sanjeev Maria and Dipak Mondal already having been ruled out.

A player who did not wish to be named added to the discord saying that using three defenders behind a midfield prone to defensive indiscretion, would fetch no better. Add to that Mehtab Hossain's comments about too many changes to the line-up affecting continuity.

Talk of a turnaround in such circumstances seems as plausible as 'newspaper taxis' and 'marmalade skies'. More so, if it has to come against a team which made a habit of defeating reigning champions Mahindra United last season, have the kind of solidity that stems from preying together for long and are coached by the same man since 1994.

But then maybe Mohun Bagan are brimming with the kind of self-belief that led Lennon and McCartney pen what turned out to be memorable words. Air India coach Bimal Ghosh is inclined to believe that.

Looking relaxed at his East Kolkata budget hotel, Ghosh said: "Playing a win-less Mohun Bagan makes this game trickier than usual. They haven't clicked as an unit but when they do, they can kill any team. Conversely, they can also disintegrate. I am not approaching the match with a negative mindset but will be happy with one point."

Leading Mohun Bagan's do-or-die call was Jose Barreto, who said he would play in front with Bhutia. The Indian captain, on his part, defied discomfort and participated in close to two hours of training.

No ifs and buts, we need a win tomorrow, was the sum and substance of what the Mohun Bagan skipper said after training on Friday morning. "We can't afford to lose tomorrow," Barreto said.

Noel Fernandes, who scored against HAL, is booked out and along with Alex Ambrose, Hirohito Elangbam and Bimal Minz - all injured - have not travelled from Mumbai. Samson Singh is doubtful with a foot injury, Ghosh said.

That could mean Nigerian Bashiru Abbas and Narender Meetei pairing in front. Raju Ekka is back in goal and the backline will have Abiodun Martins, who knows that a slip-up like the one he had against Churchill Brothers in the Federation Cup here could bring Suley Musah into the picture.

A two-goal away victory - one of them from Dharamjit Singh who should start on Saturday - was an important step in Mohun Bagan's comeback from the brink last time. An encore could end their winter of discontent once the competition resumes in spring.

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