The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Injury-hit Bagan take on Indian Bank today

Calcutta: Injuries seem to be the flavour of the season in football. Just the other day East Bengal fielded goalkeeper Arpan De as attacker, because, as coach Subhas Bhowmick put it, there was no alternative. Some called it a ‘stunt’. Stunt or not, fingers are crossed, so Saturday’s Mohun Bagan-Indian Bank match of the Oil PSU National Football League does not turn out to be one more hospital ward activity.

Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya is singing the same old song, a little louder, maybe: “Who do I field' Who do I have' There are injuries everywhere.” And then he reels out the sick bay names: “Bhaichung Bhutia, Jayanta Sen, Bivash Ghosh, Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Palash Karmakar…” He stops just inches before he finishes off his team. “I guess we’ll have just that 11-member contingent tomorrow, that’s all.”

Indian Bank coach V.P. Sathyan believes in the strength of the Mohun Bagan jersey. “It has weight on the ground. And that’s a Rs 2 crore team, mine is a mere Rs 15 lakh one. I don’t believe Mohun Bagan has only that many players to field.”

Bhattacharya says he will have to go out with the Jose Ramirez Barreto-George Ekeh push, followed up in the likes of Rennedy Singh and Basudeb Mondal in the half line, a rather flimsy presence in defence, it seems, and in the absence of the top two goalkeepers, Amit Singha Roy under the bar.

Sounds scary. Almost as scary as coach Bhowmick made it out to be. “Look, we have no option, we just have to win to stay afloat,” said Bhattacharya. “There will be no punches pulled, but remember Indian Bank are a good team. No team that has pushed in three goals against East Bengal can be bad.” The cautious note comes through.

Sathyan is playing his cards close to his chest. What he shows is that he has an injured regular team player in Ravi Babu (he will not play). He says that his plans of resting his players in this NFL gap did not quite work because of the IFA Shield engagements. “That’s good and bad. It did give us match practice, but also did not help in the injury cases. Thankfully, we have no card problems.”

Sathyan feels the league is still rather open. “The difference between the teams is thin, anybody can win on his day. So I’ll play my own game tomorrow, no extra man-marking (for Barreto, though I’m sure he is the best foreign player in the country now), and in Ekeh I see a good attacker. I have seen him with ITI, but he is more matured now.”

Sathyan hasn’t seen Bagan this season at all. But he surely believes there is sense in being wary of a multiple title-holder at their home.

The two Sri Lankan players — Nadika Jayasuriya and Mohammed Imran — arrived Friday evening (following their stint in their national team for the SAFF Cup in Bangladesh) and the coach said though he ‘should’ use them, he will run them through in the morning.

For the moment, it is crossed fingers everywhere.

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