I-League 2018-19: Can Churchill Brothers script a fairytale title win?

I-League Media
The two-time champions will have to ensure enough steam going into the business end of the league...

For a team which was relegated last season to vying for the 2018-19 I-League title, Churchill Brothers have had an entirely different campaign this time around.

They were reinstated by the AIFF (All India Football Federation) and the Goans are currently second on the standings despite being tied on points (29) with Real Kashmir.

A win against Shillong Lajong on Tuesday can take Churchill Brothers atop the standings, albeit only temporarily.

Chennai City FC still have the advantage of a point's lead  after having played just 14 games when the Red Machines, as would Real Kashmir, have played out one game more.

"I don't know if we will be champions or not,= but we play to be on top," said Churchill Brothers head coach, Petr Gigiu, on the eve of facing Lajong. "We play in the same way every game. We don't have the pressure of relegation like we did last season.

"In this moment, Churchill Brothers can win all our games, but it depends on results of the other teams. Against (Real) Kashmir, we lost the advantage to control our standing," he admitted.

Willis Plaza

The club's Trinidad and Tobago striker, Willis Plaza, has been instrumental in the team's run in the title race so far. The former East Bengal striker who was signed late last season presently leads the goalscorers chart with 16 of his side's 27 goals.

However, injuries have worried Churchill Brothers this season. Injuries to key players such as Hussein Eldor, Wayne Vaz and Israil Gurung certainly contributed to the team's 2-1 defeats against NEROCA FC and East Bengal after a seven-game unbeaten streak from the start of the season.

"Plaza does his thing every time. He's a good player. The problem now for us is that Khalid (Aucho) and (Nallappan) Mohanraj haven't come with us because they are injured. Wayne has come but he is not completely fit. (Dawda) Ceesay also has been playing despite an injury for a long time," Gigiu stated.

The Goan side were quick to react in the transfer market as they brought in Rowilson Rodrigues. The coach also resorted to deploying centre back Nenad Novakovic in midfield to fill in the void of Aucho and Richard Costa when the duo were suspended in the 2-1 win over Indian Arrows.

Petre Gigiu Churchill Brothers I-League 2018-19

"We were unbeaten for seven games and then immediately we lost against NEROCA and East Bengal. For that, I understand. We have to be prepared and have enough resistance to play many games under pressure.

"It's very difficult when you play with the thought of becoming champions. If you speak about critical times, we had opportunities against Kashmir. It's very important to concentrate in all the games. Now, I think, our players are not obsessed about being champions. Maybe that is better," voiced the Romanian.

The management and the players deserve massive credit for their improvement this season. Only complacency can harm the side's aspirations of lifting their third league title from here on, provided several results go their way.