The I-League Relegation Scramble - Five teams battle to beat the drop

With the I-League season set to re-start after a mid-season break, has a look at the scramble for survival at the bottom of the table...
 Ayush Srivastava
 Analysis | I-League
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Relegation seems to be a word in fashion within the I-League and All India Football Federation (AIFF) circles.

While the AIFF, in a bid to attract investors, is offering new franchisees a blanket cover for three years from the drop, I-League clubs recently demanded 4 year respite from the same.

Though it remains to be seen if either of the groups achieve their aims, as of now, two teams are set to be relegated at the end of this season. thus has a look at the battle at the bottom of the table, and wonders who is likely to be forced to begin next season in division two.

Club Points Games Played Won Drawn Lost
Salgaocar 20 19 5 5 9
Shillong Lajong 19 20 4 7 9
Air India 18 17 4 6 7
United Sikkim 12 20 1 9 10
Mohun Bagan 6 15 4 6 5

At the bottom of the table, thanks to their well documented issues, are Mohun Bagan. Having started from scratch from gameweek 11, they have six points from 5 games since and while it remains unthinkable that the Mariners would drop out of the top division, unless they pull up their socks, it could turn into a nightmarish reality.

What is a really sobering fact for the Kolkatan side is, that even if they hadn’t suffered from a points deduction, they would still have been tied second from bottom, albeit with three games in hand. However that is not where an expensively assembled side like Mohun Bagan should be.

Karim Bencherifa though, can point to the stop-start nature of their season, and will hope that the present mid-season break will help his side start afresh for the second part of the campaign.

With United Sikkim looking particularly listless, and Shillong Lajong, Air India, both not looking in the best shape, it means the Mariners still have a chance to stay up. But averaging just a goal every game, they need to step up to the mark, infront ofgoal, and provide adequate support to talismanic striker Odafa Okolie.

United Sikkim though, seem like everyone’s favourites to go down, as they have hardly shown anything this season, that might suggest that a revival in fortunes is round the corner.

Having conceded the most number of goals in the league (41), and having found the back of the net only 18 times, one can see why the Snow Lions have won just once this season.

Nathan Hall has often lamented about the lack of quality in the squad he inherited from Phillippe de Ridder, however he now has a foreign contingent of his liking, but has so far, failed to make any kind of positive impact at the club.

With the club looking rudderless at both ends of the pitch, it might well be curtains to Bhaichung Bhutia’s side, at the end of this campaign.

Air India meanwhile are doomed, regardless of where they finish this season, as the two Public Sector Unit (PSU) backed clubs, the Airmen and ONGC will not be part of the next edition of the I-League, for not registering themselves as a separate entity.

Their problem in recent times has been an inability to hold on to a lead, having lost or drawn from winning positions on several occasions in the recent past.

Having finally gotten a new permanent head coach at the helm in the shape of former Mumbai FC youth team coach Noushad Moosah, they still failed to shrug of that habit against ONGC, losing 2-1, after having led at one stage.

Motivating the players shall of course be an issue, and they look the likeliest team to be sucked into the relegation zone, if Mohun Bagan or United Sikkim string together a run of good results.

Shillong Lajong too are very much in the mix, and it would indeed be a nightmarish situation, if both the North-East sides would go down in the same season.

The Reds have also suffered from poor form in-front of goal, and like their North-East counter-parts, they too have dipped into the foreign market for new reinforcements, with Edinho Junior’s capture on loan from Blackburn Rovers grabbing eye-balls in particular.

It remains to be seen if the striker can fire his new side out of trouble, with five of their last six games being against teams from the top half of the table. And the other is Mohun Bagan!

Pailan Arrows continue to enjoy immunity from relegation, and hence are in no trouble, even though they have lost their way after a good start to the season.

Salgaocar FC seem like the last team still involved in the muddle, but after having themselves re-organised their squad this January, they have picked up steam in recent weeks, winning three of their last four games, and now look relatively out of trouble.

So it seems two out of Mohun Bagan, United Sikkim, Air India and Shillong Lajong are set to go down this season. While three of them were largely expected to be in such a mess, the Mariners find themselves in such a situation due to their ownselves.

The I-League is filled with instances of heavyweights getting relegated, and if the Kolkatan side do go down, they will look back to the derby game against East Bengal, when they failed to come out and play in the second half, as the one that sealed their fate.

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