Table-toppers Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC will have an eye on the I-League title when they lock horns in a crucial penultimate round match here tomorrow.
A favourable result for Mohun Bagan will be enough to win them the title, while Aizawl can become the champions if they win by two goals at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.
Mohun Bagan, one of the traditional giants of Indian football, had beaten Aizawl FC 3-2 in the first-leg match.
While Mohun Bagan would be a tough nut to crack, Aizawl FC would be backed by the home crowd as they seek to end a fairytale run on a positive note, a year after qualifying for the top league for the first time.
Even though numbers favour Mohun Bagan, the Khalid Jamil-coached Mizoram side will fancy their chances when they takes to the field tomorrow.
A draw would see both teams’ fate being decided in the last round matches where Mohun Bagan host Chennai City FC and Aizawl take on Shillong Lajong in an away clash.
Having first made the top-division cut in 2015-16, Aizawl FC finished eighth, one place above the drop zone in the nine-team competition.
However, they were still relegated because the bottom-placed team, DSK Shivajians, had an immunity from relegation for three years since they were a corporate-backed team that was given direct entry to the league.
But, with a number of clubs backing out before the start of 2016-17 season owing to uncertainty about the I-League’s future, Aizawl FC was reinstated for the current season.
The northeastern team began the season with a 1-1 draw away to East Bengal. They have only lost three matches in the entire season, and their 10 wins are the most among all teams.
Their home record is very impressive, as they scored 22 out of possible 24 points with seven wins and a 1-1 draw against defending champions Bengaluru FC.
Mohun Bagan, too, had been very consistent at home, having an identical win-draw record in as many games as Aizawl FC.
On the road tough, Mohun Bagan were found wanting, with the 1-0 result over Minerva Punjab being only the second away win for Sanjoy Sen-coached side. They have drawn a blank in half of their eight matches on the road. They lost their last continental match at home 1-0 against Maziya of Maldives in the AFC Cup.
However, Bagan’s nine clean sheets are the most among all teams in this I-League.
With the crowd firmly behind a team brimming with confidence after its 3-1 rout of Churchill Brothers in the latter’s backyard, Mohun Bagan will have their task cut out.
Speaking ahead of the match, Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said, “The atmosphere and the passion of the people are amazing. Aizawl FC have been playing extraordinary well in all their matches.”
“The home side will be feeling more pressure as it is a must win situation for them but not for us. Anything can happen on the pitch tomorrow.”
An iconic figure among the Mizos, Mohun Bagan forward Jeje Lalpekhlua said, “I am really excited about the match. It will be an exhilarating experience to play in front of passionate Mizo football fans. My family is also coming to watch, so this is a very special match for me.”
Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil said, “We must play well. We have to finish the season as best as possible. All players are playing well.”