I-League laggards Gokulam Kerala FC host Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in their opening match of the season at the EMS Corporation Stadium here on Saturday. The Bino George-coached Gokulam finished seventh last season while Mohun Bagan were in title contention at one stage before eventually finishing third. But the Kerala side has the upper hand in the two head-to-head encounters between the two sides so far, with a win and a draw respectively and the hosts would like to take that confidence into Saturday’s clash.
Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, would be looking to erase memories of a painful final day in last year’s edition, when needing a win desperately to give themselves a shot at the title, they were held to a draw in front of desolate home fans. Both Gokulam and Mohun Bagan have continuity on the coaching front, with both Bino and Sankarlal Chakraborty now in the saddle for a considerable length of time. Gokulam had a brilliant run of form in the middle stages last season. The catalyst behind the six wins that they notched up during that run, former Ugandan international striker Henry Kisekka, will incidentally spearhead their opponents attack come Saturday.
The home side, though, has accumulated good Indian talents in the likes of Baoraingdao Bodo, the I-League’s youngest ever goalscorer, in the attacking third and a local lad Arjun Jayaraj leading the midfield.
Among their foreign recruits, Ghanian Daniel Addo has been solid in defence and Ugandan Mudde Mussa will also play the holding midfield role with aplomb. Arnab Das Sharma and Shibinraj, both solid goalkeepers, will mostly be protecting the Gokulam goal between them.
Bino George appeared in his usual upbeat self on the eve of the match saying, “My target last year was to play Super Cup and I am happy we reached it. This year our target is top 3. Mohun Bagan is a strong team but we have home advantage, and we will fight strong and not give them an easy game.” Sankarlal reflected the Mariners’ sentiment before the game, saying, “Winning is the only option for us. We would only be playing to bring the trophy home and that’s the only agenda for us.”
To their credit, Mohun Bagan have managed to hold on to their top goal scorer from last year, as also of the last two I-League editions, Cameroonian Dipanda Dicka, and will feel bolstered by the return of the winger, Haitian Sony Norde although he is yet to gain match fitness. But with Kisseka in their ranks, the attack does look menacing and if the antecedents of Egyptian Omar Elhussieny is anything to go by, Gokulam’s defence is sure to be busy throughout the 90 minutes.