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Round 19 of the I-League starts off with the battle of the big boys, East Bengal and Churchill Bros. and the Red and Gold must win the encounter in their bid to secure the I-League

Round 17 of the I-League begins with an absolute cracker as East Bengal host table toppers Churchill Brothers at the Salt Lake Stadium. It was certainly ancient history, when the Red and Gold absolutely thrashed a clueless Churchill outfit at Goa and since then a lot has happened including the ill fated Kolkata derby and the subsequent suspension and reinstatement of Mohun Bagan.

Both clubs have charted a different path following the Goan club's humbling at the hands of the Federation Cup winners. While Churchill have won 7 out of their 8 subsequent matches, losing only 2 points in the process, against United Sikkim FC, East Bengal has slipped up after their dream unbeaten start to the season which stretched for about ten games, before eventually going down to Prayag United by a solitary goal. Their wretched run continued as they lost games against the likes of Mumbai FC and ONGC, which they would have beaten 9 out of 10 times previously.

Penn Orji needs to recapture his early season brilliance to take East Bengal to the summit

Capitalizing on the slip, the crown of leading the league has been ably usurped by Subhash Bhowmick's side who have ably held on, with no signs of letting go. At present they sit pretty with 34 points in 14 matches while their rivals from Kolkata have 33 points from 16 matches. With both teams playing a part in the AFC Cup in March, this is high time to plant an immovable step on the I-League summit.

An away victory against East Bengal will do just that, as they would almost certainly be uncatchable at that point. Even though Pune FC would be within touching distance, it is justified to expect that the Goans will not let that lead slip, especially with the amount of firepower at their disposal.

Okpara and Co. have to really stifle Beto and Balan - the two dangermen for the visitors

For East Bengal however, this match holds tremendous significance. To borrow the oft used cliche, a 'Do or Die' situation for them. A defeat will see them effectively lose a lot of ground in the title race in all probability but a win will see them put their nomination right back in it.

Moreover, with arguably a safer passage onward than their Goan counterparts with Dempo SC and Pune FC away from home being the only tricky fixtures, Trevor Morgan's men will enjoy a huge psychological boost too with this victory as they have been wayward off late. This win coupled with the previous convincing victories against Pailan Arrows and Mumbai FC will mean that the early season form was no mere fluke.

Although stopping the Churchill juggernaut will take some solid work, but the most miserly defense in the league will be well set out to stifle the most potent strikeforce in the division. A match made in heaven as they say!

In the midst of his all, it might as well be Pune FC who might slip in unnoticed and run away with the spoils of victory as the AFC Cup distractions from March might play spoilsport in the these two clubs' title aspirations. However with the I-League so finely poised, East Bengal 'must win' this to bring the I-League home finally to the 'spiritual home of football in India.'

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