In what promises to be an exciting battle between the teams placed fourth and fifth in the I-League, NEROCA host Mohun Bagan on Friday afternoon.
Mohun Bagan coach Sankarlal Chakraborthy spoke highly of his opponents. NEROCA finished second last season and Chakraborty believes that the Manipur-based team have stepped up a notch this season.
“NEROCA are playing much better this season. If you see the last few matches, they have been playing very well but they have missed some chances and a penalty also,” he said.
Mohun Bagan lost Sourav Das to injury and with the harsh scheduling, things might be difficult for the Kolkata giants in the fixture. But the gaffer believes that the team can manage without key players.
“When you play four matches in 12 days, it is difficult for players to recover. So, I tell all my players to be prepared and not to think about getting a chance only in your position”
“Sourav (Das) is injured, and so is Sony (Norde) and Pintu (Mahata). It (injuries) happens in a long league, but we have to manage.”
Both teams are on 15 points after playing nine games and are three points behind league leaders Chennai City. According to Chakraborty, this tight competition at the top provides an added incentive to fetch all three points.
“If you look at the league table, we have to win tomorrow's (Friday) match. At the same time, NEROCA are always tough at home and will have the crowd supporting them.
“According to our game, I am still not happy with a few silly mistakes which have still kept us at number five. But we have decided not to go as the per league table and play match by match instead. If you win, according to the table, there will always be a change.
“There is a very less gap (between teams) which means there is a lot of competitiveness between the teams this year.”
NEROCA boss Manuel Fraile believes that his team deserves better for the quality of football they have displayed. With his team on a four-match unbeaten streak, the Spaniard is happy with how things are going. Against Mohun Bagan, a tough task awaits NEROCA but Fraile is confident of a spirited performance from his team.
“We are improving a lot. Just last month, we weren't able to enjoy as much in the dressing room because we knew that we deserved more. Now we are in a good form but we will see a very tough match against Mohun Bagan tomorrow (Friday).
“On the ground, we don't see Mohun Bagan or East Bengal. We must fight for three points on our ground in front of our people. We do not feel pressure but we have to be very careful as well because they (Bagan) have very good players and a good coach (Sankar Lal Chakraborty) also,” he said.
The Spaniard too acknowledged the competitiveness of the league and spoke about how the tie against Mohun Bagan can prove to be a crucial one.
“We have to keep a distance from Mohun Bagan and for sure, by the end of the season, we will be among the four or five teams to be at the top.”
The NEROCA boss does not believe that the absence of Mohun Bagan’s star man Sony Norde will have any effect on their preparation for the game.
“When one player is injured, I'm not happy, to be honest. I want them to be ready (with their full strength). If one player is not there, there will be another who has to be very good. So, we have to be careful and focus on our game,” he exclaimed.