|Jose Ramirez Barreto instructs Leonardo, Eduardo (centre) and Hardeep Saini as coach Aloke Mukherjee (extreme right) supervises practice at the Mohun Bagan ground on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: While the Big Two of the Maidan — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — as well as Mohammedan Sporting, have been struggling to pocket full points, Tollygunge Agragami —a team living in the glow of the other three — have returned home undefeated.
For Mohun Bagan, a home win over Mohammedan Sporting was followed by a 1-2 defeat in the hands of Mahindra United in Mumbai. East Bengal so far lost to Salgaocar and managed to draw with Vasco SC in their two away ties.
Set against such poor performance from their big brothers, Tollygunge drew both their away matches with Churchill Brothers and Dempo in Goa.
This is the fact that hardly misses Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee’s attention. “This is creditable,” as Aloke put it on Tuesday, ahead of his team’s third round National Football League (NFL) clash with Tollygunge Agragami at Salt Lake Stadium.
On paper Mohun Bagan will definitely start favourites, but Aloke sounds cautious, saying that in a marathon league nothing should be taken for granted.
“This is just the beginning of a long, arduous league. So better be prepared for some ups and downs in the initial stages,” Aloke told reporters after the morning work-out. “But what is important is whether we are closing in on the target at the end of the day,” he added.
Aloke had earlier spelled out his recipe for retaining the most prestigious crown in domestic football — 22 points from the first leg and another 20 from the second leg.
Injured captain Rennedy Singh is out of action and even doubtful in his team’s next engagement at home against Indian Bank on December 15. Lolendra Singh and Sanjeev Maria are also ruled out through injury.
But Aloke looks undeterred in the face of such adversities in that the new Brazilian signings —Eduardo Rebeiro and Leonardo Monorat de Almeida — have been “impressive” against Mahindra United. “They looked impressive in Goa. Plus Ashim (Biswas) is also in good form,” Aloke said, indicating that Jose Ramirez Barreto will be played as a withdrawn forward.
Aloke’s counterpart in Tollygunge Agragami, Krishnendu Roy, admitted that his team had a good run in Goa and wanted to keep the momentum going.
“It’s nice to have that feeling that when other big teams are struggling in Goa, we have put up a creditable show against two of the title-contenders. We have stuck to the basics, gaining a point from each of the away matches. That’s good… That gives us confidence,” Krishnendu, former national teammate of the rival coach, said.
There is no fear of injury among his resources. Akeem Abolanle seems to be in good nick and the defence has so far shown enough determination and resilience in getting their act together.
“I have asked my boys to play their heart out. NFL is a big stage and the players must raise the level of their game. Because one good performance here means you may be in the zone of getting a national call… I think every player dreams of representing the country one day,” Krishnendu maintained.
“Mohun Bagan are a big side, but I have told my boys there is nothing to fear about.
“We are also capable of producing good results,” he added, his words conveying a definite message to the opponents’ ranks.