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The Mohun Bagan coach felt that the I-League has been very competitive, and that his team needs at least a win from the remaining two games to ensure survival...

Mohun Bagan suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Salt Lake Stadium by title chasing Bengaluru FC in the I-League on Sunday.

In spite of the home team getting off to a good start, they were on the losing end. When questioned on what went wrong coach Karim Bencherifa bemoaned that his team chose to prefer long balls instead of building up their attack patiently.

“I think, in scenario of the match, we knew the match would be difficult, there’s no question about that. But I think we prepared very well, for this match. I think we really had a good start. Then gradually we had difficulties. And the difficulty comes from the fact that we start playing long balls. We start playing direct. We know their strengths are their two centre-backs (John Johnson and Curtis Osano) and we did not win a single ball for almost last 25 minutes. Basically that’s not what we wanted because we played to their strengths. Their strengths is their two centre-backs, they are good in the air. That’s not our strength.”

“But, I don’t think we did that the whole match. We did show up in the second half. A goal that was scored that could be avoided and then we started the second half on a positive note. Except the goal (Sean Rooney’s strike) that we conceded we did things; two things - except the goal we conceded and that fact that we didn’t score, the rest of the things I was happy with in the second half.

“We kept possession very well, we dominated the game. They came here, they wanted (the win), they knew it was important, they had things right. They were super motivated about coming out with a result and I think at times we did not match that.  But it was not a bad game. It was a tough game for us. They took the few chances that they got and they got the three points.”

He went to mention that Bengaluru FC are a very physical team and that they were very good aerially.

“Their coach (Ashley Westwood) ended up with a red card. That’s what makes the game for us. They are a physical side. You talk about Robin (Singh), the two centre-backs, the back four, even Rino Anto and Keegan Pereira, they are very physical. You cannot deny also Sunil Chhetri and Rooney. They are very good in the air and very physical. And that’s at times in some areas of the field get the better of us.”

He then complimented Bengaluru FC on being consistent in their first ever season.

“They are doing a lot of things right on the field and off the field. And this thing does not come as a coincidence. If you want to win titles, if you want to be consistent, you need to do a lot and lot of things right in all the departments of the club. And they are doing that.”

Bencherifa believes that his side could have avoided conceded the two goals as they literally gifted it to the opposition.

“You see we worked the whole week. On the right there is Sean Rooney who is on the flank, there is the overlap of Rino Anto. They try to make two versus one. They try to create a situation where they can cross the ball and you are going to have the penetration from behind Robin and then you have Sunil Chhetri who will drift in as well. And they are all good in the air. If it’s from the left, you can find Sunil Chhetri on the flank, the overlap of Keegan, and you are going to find the same problem with Thoi Singh plus the penetration of Sean Rooney. And the first goal, I thought we didn’t mark properly and it was inside the six yard box. It could have been avoided. Both goals could have been avoided.”

Bagan are placed tenth on the table and have two matches to go in order to avoid the drop.

“I think I would still fight till the final whistle of the season and I would still try to make sure that all the players play till the last whistle of the season. But I still believe that we can do better and if we don’t we may be trapped in some calculations. We don’t want to be in that. We need at least a win in the last two games to be sure we’re out of this.”

The Moroccan also expressed his thoughts on what is turning out to be a very competitive season at both ends of the table.

“Rangdajied (United) for example, they won four games in a row, and they lost at home against Sporting (Clube de Goa). The I-League is very competitive. You cannot predict any game from now on. What I would say is that the teams like Bengaluru will continue to perform the way you see today. But apart from that anything can happen.”

First choice custodian Shilton Paul was substituted for Sandip Nandy at the beginning of the second half. When asked whether the substitution was forced due to injury he said, “No. There was I think maybe the fact that he didn’t play for a long time. The goalkeeping department is a bit, well their confidence and their match fitness is a concern. I think Sandip did a good job except the error of the goal. I think there was a great save. So it’s okay.”

The Mariners coach also reserved special praise for Bengaluru’s organization as they looked like a well oiled unit.

“I really believe they look good as a team. I don’t think it’s only about defense. From Thoi Singh to all their players, they are playing very well as a unit. They are fighting for each other. They are physical as I said, and the way they are doing on the field, off the field. If you want to win the League, you need to play consistently, and if you want to perform consistently, you have to plan a lot more.”

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