Plenty of heads will be turned towards Ludhiana when Minerva Punjab host Mohun Bagan at the Guru Nanak stadium for a round16 I-League tie on Saturday, 15th April 2017. Not only is this a crucial tie for Mohun Bagan, it will also be of interest to Aizawl FC and East Bengal FC who are also chasing the I-League title.
The Guru Nanak stadium in Ludhiana has not really been the best of stadiums for Minerva Punjab FC. Six points from eight games at home is a woeful record for any team, whichever way one looks at the results.
As such, Mohun Bagan will be confident of securing a victory on Saturday and consolidate their grip on the title. As things stand, Bagan are level on top of the table with Aizawl, each having 30 points each. More importantly, Bagan have a better head-to-head record against Aizawl, though both of them will clash again in the upcoming weeks. As such, it is very crucial Sanjoy Sen's side notch all three points against Minerva Punjab.
Though The Mariners put in a shabby performance in their 1-1 draw in the midweek against Shillong Lajong, they dug deep and gained a point in the match. A vast improvement will be needed from Bagan but in Minerva Punjab, they have an opposition who is not likely to threaten them as much as Shillong Lajong.
Minerva fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat in the previous round against fellow newcomers Chennai City and it has been a tough few weeks for The Warriors. They have collected just the two points from the previous five fixtures and languish at the ninth position with 12 points from 15 games.
Fortunately, they are insulated from relegation and do not harbour any fears on that count. South Korean defender Sang-Min Kim and Loveday Enyinnaya are expected to hold their defence together but will have their work cut out against Balwant Singh and Darryl Duffy who are expected to take the attacking mantle for Sanjoy Sen's side.
Minerva have a few talented youngsters like Boaringdao Bodo, Anirudh Thapa etc but Mohun Bagan's experienced array of stars might just prove to be too much for them on the day.
Another point of interest has been the ground condition at the stadium which has come in for a lot of criticism in the early part of the season. But the condition of the outfield has improved by leaps and bounds and Sanjoy Sen himself admitted as much in the pre-match press conference.
But Mohun Bagan were visibly upset at what they perceived as a lack of hospitality from their opponents as after they were forced to train at 12 noon instead of in the evening despite completing a long journey to Ludhiana only a few hours back. It is important that they put it on the back of their mind and concentrate on what is a crucial game in the race for the title.
Kickoff is at 7:05 pm on Saturday.
MINERVA PUNJAB FC:
Key Player:Kareem Nurain
MOHUN BAGAN FC:
Injured:Subhasish Bose, Raynier Fernandes
Key Player:Sony Norde