I-League 2018: Minerva Punjab FC eye top spot ahead of Mohun Bagan clash
Minerva Punjab FC are two points behind table-toppers East Bengal while Mohun Bagan will be eyeing a repeat of their previous performance against the Chandigarh club in which they won 4-0.football Updated: Jan 09, 2018 17:51 IST
It fits that a team growing from its academy would look within for Indian footballers. The surprising bit lies in how a young Minerva Punjab FC have shown that modest means are no impediment to dreaming big.
After seven games in the 11th I-League and in only their second season in the top tier, the Chandigarh club is second in the standings on 16 points with five wins and a draw, two behind East Bengal who have played two games more.
Minerva FC play Mohun Bagan here on Wednesday before travelling to Shillong Lajong. That means they could be four points in the clear by the weekend by when they would have played the same number of games as East Bengal.
“The I-League is a long journey and my players are gaining experience in every match. We want to win tomorrow,” said coach W Khogen Singh who had joined Minerva Punjab FC last July as their academy head. By the 10th or the 11th round, the team should be able to understand the significance of the league, said Singh when asked if lack of experience --- the team that often starts with four under-22 players --- could make the difference between being pace-setters and title-contenders.
Unlike Mohun Bagan, who have been iffy in the front third without injured Haiti international Sony Norde, Minerva Punjab’s 10 goals have been scored by seven players, three of them Indians. On 13 points from eight games, Mohun Bagan have scored 12 but five came in one game.
Despite usually fielding two under-22 imports in Bhutanese forward Chencho Gyeltshen, and Ghanaian medio William Asiedu, who was with Middlesbrough last term, and often starting with five local players, Minerva Punjab FC have ground out wins.
Singh attributed the consistency to fitness, preparation and denying imports preferential treatment. As a midfielder, Singh played for Air India who, under coach Bimal Ghosh, would regularly punch above their weight in the 1990s and the Noughties.
Mohun Bagan, for whom goalie Shilton Paul and Dipanda Dicka are doubtful due to niggles, are thus likely to be up against a hard-running, well-drilled team. “We expect a tough game,” said Mohun Bagan coach Sankarlal Chakraborty.
Elementary to Mohun Bagan unhinging them would be attacking midfielder Cameron Watson. The Australian started well in the 2-0 win against Aizawl FC on Sunday and Mohun Bagan will hope that with Norde unavailable, his influence continues to grow.
The last time Mohun Bagan hosted Minerva they won 4-0. But the teams have moved in opposite directions since and neither Darryl Duffy nor Jeje Lalpekhlua --- the goalscorers last term --- wear the team shirt anymore.