I-League 2nd Division: David Booth working his magic at outstanding Ozone FC

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David Booth's Ozone FC is on a roll this season and is only a step away from I-League....

David Booth's Ozone FC is on a roll. After an undefeated, title-winning Bengaluru Super Division campaign, the experienced English coach has taken the club to the final round of the second-division of I-League. 

The 69-year-old head coach who helped Mumbai FC get into India's top-tier league ten years ago is looking to do the same with the Bengaluru-based Ozone FC. And he is going about it in some style. 

Since he took charge in the summer, the club has embarked on an incredible 19-game winning run which only recently came to an end in their final group game in the second division against Kerala Blasters. Their first defeat of the season allowed Blasters to take the top spot in group B but Ozone FC qualified to the final round as the best-placed non-ISL team. 

David Booth, Salgaocar FC

Speaking to Goal, the former Grimsby Town defender reflected on their performances so far. "The mood has been absolutely terrific. We went really, really well until the last game. It was a hectic day for us, some things in the build-up (to the game against Blasters) weren't particularly good and unfortunately, we lost. It was the first time we lost in 20 games. It probably brought us back to earth again and made us realize the work we still have to do."

In the 20 games under David Booth, Ozone FC have scored 52 goals and conceded just eight. They have so far only shipped three goals in the ongoing second division league, a remarkable defensive record which is the best of the lot. 

"The thing is, to win games, your defence has to work well. It is no good giving goals away and having to score three or four goals every game. If you don't give goals away, then one goal is sometimes enough," said Booth of his watertight defence. 

David Booth quotes

"We work on the whole team structure but the defensive side is very important to any team especially in a competition like this where one goal makes all the difference."

As with the other three teams that have qualified - Real Kashmir, TRAU FC and Hindustan - Ozone FC are still in the dark about how the top-tier of Indian league is going to shape up. As it stands, the Indian Super League and I-League will be run in parallel.

"I can't control what is going to happen in the future. All I can do is concentrate on today, which is now the qualification to get into the I-League. All the four teams are in the same situation and we can only plan. Regardless of whatever happens, we have got to plan for the future. It is no good thinking that it might not happen or it might happen."

Another major issue waiting to happen for upcoming clubs like Ozone FC is big clubs from I-League swooping in with huge offers for their top performers. Robert de Souza is one such candidate, having scored 13 goals in the Bengaluru Super Division and eight goals in seven appearances in the second division league. 

"From my point of view, I'd be delighted to see all my players play at the highest possible level in India. We have quite a young team with only one or two players over the age of 29 or 30 and to be honest since I have been here, the game against Kerala Blasters is the first game we have lost.

"The players have improved dramatically. It's all down to them, they have the ability. If they can improve, if they can go and get a good future, then I am delighted for them. 

"Obviously, it would make my job harder if I decide to stay in this league or I-League, we would have to try to adjust and try to keep most of them if possible. In India, everybody wants to play I-League or ISL, from my point of view, good luck to them if they can do so. I wouldn't dream of trying to hold anybody back.

For now, though, the focus of the staff and players is firmly on gaining promotion to I-League after losing out last year. NEROCA FC clinched the title back then and followed it up with a terrific I-League campaign this season where they finished runners-up. 

"In the group, every game was tough. We are accustomed to it now. To be in final four is something new for Ozone as a club but for some of the players and myself, we have been in this situation before. We feel that we can handle it. All we have to do is to make the team believe that they can do it. I don't think there's anything to choose between the four teams."

David Booth quotes

David Booth also opined that the venue for the final round should not be an issue. Fellow participants had voiced their concerns over Bengaluru being the venue for the final round games. Ozone's head coach is unperturbed. 

"To be honest, I don't care where we go (play). The pitches are not going to win the games. If people are not happy about coming here, that might be an advantage for us. I don't think it is an issue. Football is played in every city, where you play is irrelevant."

Ozone's 0-1 defeat against Kerala Blasters also saw crowd trouble in the stands. A few Kerala Blasters supporters were abused and attacked while the match was going on after Blasters scored the match-winning goal.

"I didn't notice until yesterday that there was fan trouble. I wasn't aware of it. My back is to the stands, I don't usually look at the stands. All I heard was shouting and the Kerala people had been shouting all game."

The final round of games will kick-start on May 24 and it will be a familiar challenge for David Booth - take charge, work hard, repeat!

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