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I-League: Minerva Punjab FC start favourites against tired Gokulam Kerala FC

With Minerva Punjab FC trailing NEROCA FC by three points, a win here against Gokulam Kerala FC on Tuesday will make the hosts front-runners to lift the I-League title.

football Updated: Feb 19, 2018 19:13 IST
Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma
Hindustan Times, Panchkula
I-League,Minerva Punjab FC,Gokulam Kerala FC
A win here against Gokulam Kerala FC on Tuesday will make Minerva Punjab FC front-runners to lift the I-League title. (AIFF)

Hosts Minerva Punjab FC will start as favourites against Gokulam Kerala FC as they hunt for their maiden I-League title in the second season in top flight on Tuesday.

Minerva, having played four matches less then top placed NEROCA FC (31 points) are placed second with 29 points. NEROCA have just one match in hand, while East Bengal have seemingly fallen behind with 26 points, their previous match ending in a 2-1 loss to Gokulam.

Gokulam, placed eighth, have struggled through the season but off lately have shown fine form to eke out twin wins over Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Minerva had played too deep for their liking in the 0-1 loss to East Bengal and coach Wangkhem Khogen Singh said his team is ready to make amends.

“This match is important for the I-League title. If we take three points in this match then we are on top. The boys will give 100 per cent. The lower ranked teams or upper ranked teams don’t make much of a difference in I-league. We are in a tight situation and the title is close to our hands. But still, we need to work to get it,” he said.

Journey ordeal leaves Gokulam fuming

Meanwhile, Gokulam were left facing an ordeal in their journey from Calicut to Chandigarh. The team first endured a four-hour drive to Cochin and then flew to Delhi. With the Chandigarh airport closed, the team then had to take a bus to reach Chandigarh, with the journey lasting eight hours.

To top it off, the AIFF match commissioner deemed the stadium out of bounds for pre-match practice, leaving coach Bino George fuming.

“I mean there has to be some sense to this. We are humans after all. I have few injured players. We had to wait for two hours for the bus in Delhi Airport and reached here at 8 pm. The bus wasn’t even sleeper class so players were cramped for space. Today, we had to practice at the Minerva academy ground. I could have very well flown here tomorrow itself at least that would have ensured proper rest for my team,” he said.

With regards to the task in hand, George was clear that his young side is improving with every match and with no pressure on them, they have a mandate to play freely.

“We had injuries at crucial junctures but we have no pressure. We will fight and try to play a better game,” he said.

Gokulam had a busy January transfer window with club adding Nigerian Emmanuel Ugochuku Chigozie, Bahrain Mahmood Al-Ajmi, and Uganda’s Henry Kisekka. Their impact has been instant with the team managing a string of good results.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 19:13 IST