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Bagan pin hopes on the young brigade

- Boys must stand up and be counted, says Karim
Mohun Bagan players during training, at the club ground, on Thursday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: Mohun Bagan will have a battle on hand when they take on Churchill Brothers in an Airtel I-League encounter, at the Salt Lake Stadium, here, on Friday evening.

The teams clashed in the Federation Cup semi-final last month and there are contrasting moods in the two squads since that meeting, which Churchill Brothers won 2-1.

While Bagan are lacking confidence after an early exit from the IFA Shield and defeat to Salgaocar in their last I-League game on Sunday, Churchill Brothers are the in-form team as they are unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions. A win will also move them within one point of the Calcutta club with a game in hand.

“We created a lot of chances against Salgaocar but still we ended up on the losing side. We are playing good football, but somehow we are not getting the result,” Karim Bencharifa said after Thursday’s practice session.

“Now we are in the danger of being relegated. We have to buck up fast. We have a young side. Players like Pankaj Moulla, Pritam Kotal, Ram Malik, Zakeer Mundampara and CS Sabeeth have to stand up and be counted. It’s time for the boys to be men. Otherwise we will be in the abyss,” Karim did not mince his words. Bagan, who have 18 points from 16 matches, are six points ahead of bottom-placed Rangdajied United FC (RUFC).

The team’s struggle has actually put Karim under huge stress. “I am stressed out, but not losing my sleep over it. In fact last three days, I have had very good sleep. I could not watch the two Champions League matches,” Karim said.

The green-and-maroon brigade have failed to score in their last three matches in all competitions and they will once again be without club captain Okolie Odafa. On Friday, Christopher Chizoba and Katsumi Yusa will upfront.

The Goan outfit showed great defensive organisation to earn a goalless draw against East Bengal on Tuesday and now will be confident of securing maximum points from this match to go five clear of rock-bottom RUFC.

Bagan will take heart from the fact that before the defeat to Churchill Brothers in the Federation Cup they had lost just once in 11 matches stretching over three different competitions and even recorded a morale-boosting win over arch-rivals East Bengal in the Calcutta Football League. Churchill Brothers though would look to make the most of the home team’s poor recent form and continue their revival since the Federation Cup with the presence of technical director Subhas Bhowmick adding a spring in their step.

“Bagan have been playing well… Our target is to save relegation. Even if we win all our matches we cannot win the I-League. So we are being realistic. We are taking one match at a time,” Bhowmick said at the Salt Lake Stadium.

“We have won the Federation Cup, which means this team has the quality. Only thing now we need is a little bit of consistency. I am confident we will finish in the sixth or seventh position,” he said.

Churchill will be missing Denzil Franco whose father passed away a few days back, while Costa Rican recruit Cristian Lagos is doubtful after suffering from dehydration.

Bagan will be missing the services of Kinshuk Debnath who is busy playing a tournament for his employers.