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I-League: Air India challenge for injury struck ONGC

Air India defence is a tough nut to crack

NEW DELHI: The first ‘home’ match for ONGC was sweet – it earned them their first point in the I-League. But it could have been sweeter. A late goal equaliser in the 88th minute by Prayag United Ranti Martins and some crucial misses in front of the rival goal, including one which hit the bar in the last attack of the play, denied them full points.

But all is not green after that sort of heartwarming performance against strong contenders Prayag United. Nine days later, an injury and a red card stay a thorn in ONGC’s flesh as they gear up to host bottom-placed Air India in their next encounter at the Ambedkar Stadium on Sunday (October 4). The kick-off is at 2.30pm.

“An injury to our defender Bijoy Gurung enabled Prayag to crawl back into the match,” recollects ONGC Coach Subrata Bhattacharya. “His substitution proved to be the turning point. I had no option as he was injured,” he adds.

Gurung hasn’t yet recovered from his hamstring injury and will have to sit out against Air India. “We have an adequate replacement,” Bhattacharya echoes. “It’s the I-League and you need to build your team keeping such mishaps in mind.”

Apart from Gurung, ONGC’s goalscorer against Prayag Liberia’s Eric Brown will be missed. “It was Brown’s first match and he had announced his arrival with a superb let-footer freekick which beat Subrata Pal hands down. We will miss him for sure. But such is life,” Bhattacharya defines.

“Air India are a tough opponent,” he says the very next moment. “We watched them in the Federation Cup and there’s tremendous cohesion in the midfield. Mohun Bagan were lucky to garner full points against them in their last match,” he adds.

Bhattacharya’s rival counterpart, Air India coach, Godfrey Pereira, a former India International, stays aware about the desperation – the desperation to open their account. “It’s a very vital match for us. We stay desperate to open our account. We need to win at any cost,” he says in one breath.

“We don’t have much knowledge about ONGC except seeing them in the Federation Cup. They had a good match against Prayag United.” For the record, ONGC have only two foreign recruits in their ranks – Nigerian striker Henry and attacking midfielder Junior, also from Nigeria.

“Air India can run the steam out of any side. They are a very fit side who run all over in the 90 minutes. They will stretch any opponent. That’s stays their quality. We need to be cautious,” Bhattacharya opines.

The kick-off at the Ambedkar Stadium is at 2.30pm.

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