Title in sight, East Bengal, Neroca eye three points
Kolkata, Mar 7 (PTI) With the I-League heading for a photo-finish in a four-way title race, East Bengal will count on home advantage against Neroca FC in their last-gasp bid to win the elusive trophy here tomorrow.
On a high after their 7-1 rout of Chennai City, East Bengal were in control of their own destiny, but Khalid Jamil's side blew the advantage with a 2-2 draw at Shillong Lajong FC on Monday.
East Bengal have now slipped to fourth (30 points) behind leaders Minerva Punjab FC (32), Neroca FC (31) and Mohun Bagan (30) -- all of them in title hunt, and play their respective matches at the 3pm tomorrow.
Minerva Punjab host Churchill Brothers in Panchkula and Mohun Bagan face Gokulam Kerala in Kozhikode. Permutations and combinations are certain to come into the picture.
East Bengal can lift their maiden I-League title if they manage to beat Neroca FC and pray that both Minerva Punjab and Mohun Bagan lose their respective games.
But it's advantage Minerva Punjab who need only a win to seal the deal, failing which they will have to depend on favourable results from the other two matches.
Second-placed Neroca FC can lift the trophy in their debut season in case they manage to earn a win against East Bengal and pray that Minerva Punjab do not pick up a win against Churchill Brothers.
Mohun Bagan have shot back into contention thanks to Minerva Punjab's slip-ups lately.
A win on the final day against Gokulam Kerala away could see them being crowned champions, if other results favour them.
If three teams finish on 33 points, then Mohun Bagan will lift their second I-league trophy as cumulative points collected from four fixtures will then be taken into account.
Mohun Bagan have seven points with a double over East Bengal and a draw against Minerva.
Minerva have picked up five points (win and draw against Bagan and another draw against East Bengal) whereas East Bengal have managed to gather only four points (win and a draw against Minerva).
Neroca coach Gift Raikhan said they are not under any pressure and will be playing free football.
"They are the home side and they have the pressure to win this title for a long time. We have nothing to lose," the Neroca gaffer said.
East Bengal will rely on their Nigerian ace Dudu Omagbemi, who scored a brace to rescue a point against Lajong FC.
The East Bengal top scorer, with seven goals, believes that the title race would witness another twist tomorrow.
"When I returned to join East Bengal, people questioned my ability. I have shown what I can do -- that I can still score."
"We tried our best to get a positive result against Lajong FC. It didn't happen. We play as a team and lose as a team. I'm not giving up hope. This league is not finished yet