East Bengal will look to avenge their last month’s defeat when they face a beleaguered Mohun Bagan in the return leg I-League derby football fixture in Kolkata on Sunday. Former champions Mohun Bagan, who had begun their campaign on a high with a win over East Bengal in the first leg derby, have problems aplenty with the latest being their injured forward Sony Norde all set to be released on January 22.
The Mohun Bagan linchpin, who has consulted Dr Anant Joshi for his torn meniscus in right leg, is learnt to be heading to Argentina for further treatment, even as the Mariners are still hoping to see his magic for one last time on Sunday.
“We are making best efforts and he has taken injections, maybe he will be seen in action for a few minutes one last time,” a team official said on the eve of the derby.
Mohun Bagan won by a solitary goal against their arch-rivals in the season’s first derby on December 3 last but since then they have slumped to sixth in the table and parted with their I-League winning coach Sanjoy Sen.
They have collected six points in the last six matches while East Bengal have climbed up to the top of the table with four back-to-back wins before slipping to second by dropping points in their last two matches.
Eyeing a maiden I-League title, East Bengal have not lost since their reversal in the first leg and they will start as favourites, something that was acknowledged by none other than Mohun Bagan coach Shankarlal Chakraborty.
“East Bengal are way ahead of us. With or without Sony, East Bengal will start favourites. You just look at the table. They have lost only one match. Their coach (Khalid Jamil) has a lot of more experience than me, having coached at Mumbai FC before winning I-League for Aizawl FC (last season),” a modest Chakraborty said.
“They have not lost an away match. Their team combination from defence to forward is much better than us.”
In such a scenario, East Bengal will be eager to bag three points that will close down the gap at the top of the table with Minerva Punjab.
With Norde’s future all set to be over at Mohun Bagan, the Mariners have shown urgency in roping in Lebanese forward Akram Moghrabi in place of a lacklustre Anusmana Kromah.
Having instrumental in guiding Churchill Brothers to the I-League title in 2012-13 with 10 goals, Akram will look to start scoring goals from his maiden appearance in green-and- maroon jersey.
Mohun Bagan captain Shilton Paul looks likely to miss the match owing to a stomach bug while Yuta Kinowaki did not join practice.
East Bengal, on the other hand, have hired Dudu Omagbemi for a fresh stint and he would look to partner mercurial Japanese Katsumi Yusa and Mahmoud Al Amna.
“This match is not going to be about Dudu. Rather, it’s all about the team. Personally, I’ll try to do my best for the team. Together, we’ll go all out to achieve our target,” Dudu, who has played for Mohun Bagan in 2014-15 after leaving East Bengal, said.
East Bengal’s Brazilian defender Eduardo Ferreira, who will have his hands full neutralising Akram Moghrabi’s threat, underlined the importance of play as a “team”.
“We must win every game from here to land the I-League trophy. We are taking it match by match and need to concentrate for 90 minutes if we are to cross the Mohun Bagan hurdle,” the Brazilian centreback said as the Maidan is abuzz with I-League’s return leg derby.
It will be the 321st meeting between the sides in their history in all competitions. In 21 matches in the I-League era, the Red and Golds have won five times while the Mariners have been victorious eight times, with eight draws played.
However, in the past five meetings at the national level, it has been all Mohun Bagan with three wins and two draws to their name.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines