By I-League Media

SILIGURI: Kolkata giants Kingfisher East Bengal and Mohun Bagan clash their swords as the much-anticipated Kolkata Derby shifts to the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Saturday. In an intense battle at the better half of the table, the defending champions will be looking to further capitalise their lead on the table summit as their cross-city rivals chase them.

The ‘home’ side, Kingfisher East Bengal will be buoyed by their valiant effort in Aizawl, on the other side of the international break where Ranti Martins produced a late hat-trick, second by him in the ongoing Hero I-League, to come back from two goals down to eventually win the game by 3-2.

The rescue effort in the Mizo hills will be a distant memory for Biswajit Bhattacharya as his East Bengal will be looking to fend off pressure and play to their abilities. “There is always pressure in a derby. I hope we perform well and we secure the three points. If we win, our chances definitely go up”, said the Red & Golds coach.

Trailing the champions by five points with a game in hand, skipper Robert Lalthlamuana stressed the importance of gaining the vital three points. “It does not matter if we play good or bad football, at the end if we don’t get the three points, it is of no use”, the man from Mizoram said.

Red and Gold stalwart Mehtab Hossain, a veteran of 24 Kolkata Derbies is due to enter the Silver Jubilee mark. “It is simple from here, we have to win this match. Even a draw is not sufficient as this will kick us out of the title race”, said Hossain on the eve of the match.

With no injury concerns, Kingfisher East Bengal looks set to field a strong unit, However, one major concern remains the over dependence of Ranti Martins for the goals. Kingfisher East Bengal have an opportunity to jump over Bengaluru FC in the standings if all three points are secured, thereby reducing the gap to just two points over Mohun Bagan.

On the other hand, Mohun Bagan seemed to be runaway leaders until they had their unbeaten streak crushed by Aizawl FC in an away game last week.

The league leaders face a tricky test in Siliguri as their record in the northern Bengal city has been dismal in a majority demography supporting the rival Kolkata club.

“The derby has a historical value and it presents itself in a most significant way at this stage of the league. This has become a do-or-die game for us and we cannot afford any slip-ups tomorrow”, said assistant coach Shankar Lal Chakraborty ahead of the high-octane encounter.

Haitian international Sony Norde joined the team early on Friday after travelling more than 14000 kilometers from national duty. The talismanic winger did not train and was given a bit of a rest. It is believed that his fitness will be assessed tomorrow before the squad announcement as his participation remains a major doubt.

Mariners’ highest scorer Cornell Glen, who found the back of the net in the last installment of the derby, played down the focus on individual milestones. He said, “I do not care if I get a goal or not, we need to win and we need to win at least three out of our last four to win the Hero I-League.”

The Mariners look a settled side other than the absentees and the presence of Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was recently handed the national team armband, will be a major boost. The striker has a knack of scoring in important matches and this time, the team would rely heavily on him for a win.

With spoils shared in the first leg in January, both teams will be desperate to make a strong statement as the Hero I-League heads into the final phase. Even 500 kilometers away from the city, still the Kolkata Derby remains a mouth-watering prospect for all football aficionados.

The fascinating Hero I-League encounter, by far the most crowd-puller in Indian football, kicks off at 04:30 PM tomorrow and the match will be telecast live on Ten 2.