I-League title and relegation race set to go down to the wire as season nears close
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I-League title and relegation race set to go down to the wire as season nears close

The I-League 2017/18 is approaching the business end of the season and the battles for relegation as well as the race to win the title is neck-to-neck.

football Updated: Feb 22, 2018 10:47 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
I-League,East Bengal,Minerva Punjab FC
Minerva Punjab FC and Gokulam Kerala in action during the I-League match at Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula on Tuesday, 20 February 2018. (HT Photo)

The disappointment was clear on Khogen Singh’s face when the final whistle went off in Panchkula on Tuesday. Just two weeks back, the Minerva Punjab FC coach was confident of his team’s chances of winning the I-League and he even went on to tag them the ‘favourites’.

However, back-to-back defeats against East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala FC have hampered their momentum and with three matches remaining for the Punjab side, the race for the I-League trophy is all set to go down to the wire.

Minerva Punjab FC have been one of the most consistent sides in the competition this season and they went into the match against Gokulam FC as the clear favourites.

But, Binu George’s men were also high on confidence after beating third-placed East Bengal and a late goal by striker Henry Kisekka proved to be the deciding factor in a more-or-less even encounter.

As a result, Minerva Punjab FC need seven points from their last three games to claim the title if East Bengal win all of their remaining matches.

East Bengal, who are currently on 26 points, need to win all of their remaining three matches to clinch the title, but will need Minerva to drop at least three points. It will not be an easy task for them as they will be facing relegation-threatened Chennai City FC and top-placed NEROCA FC (31 points from 17 matches) before travelling to Shillong for the final game of their campaign.

A loss will still keep them in contention for the top prize but in that case, they will have to depend on Minerva Punjab FC’s results.

NEROCA FC and Mohun Bagan are still mathematically in a position to win the I-League this season, but their chances are currently quite far-fetched.

While NEROCA FC have just one game in hand, Mohun Bagan (24 points from 15 matches) need to win all their matches and hope that East Bengal, Minerva Punjab FC and NEROCA FC fail to cross the 33-point mark for the 2014-15 winners to lift the trophy.

At the bottom of the table, the relegation scenario is also shaping up into an interesting battle between Chennai City FC, Churchill Brothers and Shillong Lajong. Gokulam FC and Indian Arrows are exempted from the relegation procedure and that has made life tough for these three teams.

Churchill are currently on 16 points and they need 7 points from their last three games to escape the drop.

Chennai City FC, who are also on 16 points, have a tougher road ahead as they need to win their last two games against title aspirants East Bengal and Minerva Punjab FC.

They will also need Churchill and Lajong to drop points, in order to survive. Lajong (21 points from 17 points) will be safe in case Chennai City FC fail to win both of their games or Churchill don’t earn at least five more points.

If all three sides end up on 22 points from 18 matches, Churchill will be relegated due to a worse head-to-head record.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 10:46 IST