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Chennai City ready to pour cold water on Minerva Punjab’s I-League title challenge

Minerva Punjab FC are currently on top of I-League table with 32 points from 16 matches. Ninth-placed Chennai City FC are relegation-threatened

football Updated: Mar 01, 2018 19:07 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Chennai City FC,Minerva Punjab FC,I-League
Minerva Punjab FC face Chennai City FC in an away match in I-League on Thursday.(HT Photo)

Chennai City and Minerva Punjab will both want nothing less than a win when they meet at the JLN Stadium on Friday in a massive clash that will have an effect on both ends of the I-League table.

As Soundararajan and his men prepare for their final league game, they face the daunting task of bringing the relentless Minerva Punjab side to a halt in their title race in order to better their own chances of escaping relegation.

READ | Mohun Bagan beat Indian Arrows to keep I-League title hopes alive

“It is a challenge again for us. Tomorrow, it is our last match on our home ground. Only if we win, we can improve our reputation. We will go all out, regardless of the opponent. We have got nothing to lose,” said Chennai City head coach V Soundararajan.

Minerva Punjab are top of the league table with 32 points from 16 games. With two games left, the Hero I-League title is theirs to lose as NEROCA FC (31 points from 17 games), East Bengal (29 points from 16) and Mohun Bagan (27 points from 16) wait to pounce on any dropped points by the title favourites.

The position of their opponents in the standings has no bearing on how Minerva Punjab are preparing for the game, according to head coach Khogen Singh.

READ | Media boycotts Minerva Punjab FC interaction after I-League club bars reporter

“We never underestimate the opponents. They had very good support at home in their last game. They are a good side. 90% of the football is about the mental strength. If you are mentally fit, you think ‘I can do that’. We are strengthing the players mentally.”

Chennai City are in a spot of bother at the other end of the table. Since Gokulam Kerala and Indian Arrows are free of relegation worries, Churchill Brothers are the team for the Southerners to better. Although superior head to head results give Chennai City an advantage, Soundararajan’s boys must win their last game and hope that Churchill Brothers go winless in their remaining two fixtures.

A disastrous run of eight winless games was brought to an end by Chennai City as they won 3-1 against their struggling rivals Churchill Brothers a few weeks ago. But East Bengal put Chennai to the swords and ran riot in a 7-1 thrashing in their last game to dent the confidence in the Coimbatore camp.

READ | Minerva Punjab FC beat Aizawl FC, climb to top of I-League table

“Last match against East Bengal was a challenge for us. Tomorrow, it is a prestige issue. Minerva are in a better position than East Bengal,” said head coach of Chennai City Soundararajan. “Initially we started well, After that, I don’t know what happened to the team. It is a bad defeat for our team. The players also agreed with me.”

Jean-Joachim Junior needs to turn up once again, just like he did at the start of the season, to fire Chennai into a hopeful lead against Minerva. Chennai City have always tried to play an attacking game of football and it should continue against Khogen Singh’s side, against whom they will hope to score early in the game to pile up the pressure.

Defeats to giant-killers Gokulam Kerala and title rivals East Bengal caused an opening for the title race, reducing Minerva Punjab’s lead at the top. Akash Sangwan and Armand Bazie scored to help the Punjab-based side to register a strong comeback win against Aizawl in their previous game and that should act as a huge morale-booster.

Minerva Punjab’s ability to project a united front has helped them mount a serious title challenge this season. Add Bhutanese superstar Chencho Gyeltshen to the mix and they boast a talented first team lineup. “There is no difference between Indian and foreign players at Minerva Punjab. We are working and playing as a team. Chencho Gyeltshen is a talented boy. We used him in the right position. ”

An early goal for Chennai City could pave way for a shock result but Minerva Punjab will be confident of a commanding performance over ninety minutes to put one hand on the much sought out Hero I-League trophy.

First Published: Mar 01, 2018 18:33 IST