THE HOME DEBUT of DSK Shivajians against Mohun Bagan tomorrow will be an occasion mired in controversy as a reluctant away side is set to play the new entrants at an altered kick-off time, with a hectic follow-up schedule.
The match, originally supposed to kick off at 7:05 pm, was pre-poned to 5:30 pm to make sure the Mohun Bagan team has enough time to travel to the Mumbai airport and catch a flight to Beijing, from where they will catch a connecting flight to Shandong and arrive barely on time to play the heavyweights Shandong Luneng Taishan FC on 2nd February in the second round of AFC Champions League qualifiers.
Mohun Bagan tried desperately to postpone the match, but it didn't work out. So now, 3 days after their historic win over Tampine Rovers, they have arrived in Pune to take on the Shivajians.
For DSK Shivajians, it's a big occasion. They are playing the first ever match in front of their home crowd and to bring in the crowd they have booked the singer Shaan to come and perform. What was supposed to be a standalone performance starting 5 pm has been shifted to half-time since the kick-off time has been brought forward.
The Shivajians will be hoping their team's performance matches up to the arrangements. They have played 3 matches so far, all away from home, and only collected 1 point so far. Had they not been immune from relegation they would be in an existential threat right now.
After the 0-0 draw they got out of Sporting Clube de Goa, Shivajians are on a 2 game losing streak. And most dishearteningly for their fans, they have not managed to score a single goal so far. It's not like their team lacks in experience - they have payers like Subrata Paul, Justin Stephen and Zohmingliana Ralte taking care of things at the back. Players like Abdul Hakku and Sena Ralte have also been good. But midfield up has been a disappointment. Israil Gurung and Zakeer Mundampara haven't been up to the mark and their main man up front - Aser Dipanda, the Cameroonian striker - has not gotten enough service.
But they may have an easier time tomorrow if Mohun Bagan coach Sanjay Sen decides to rotate some of the players. He has travelled to Pune with 18 players, and the same squad will fly to China from there. The only major ommission from there is Pritam Kotal, who hasn't been up to the mark lately. But the likes of Raju Gaikwad and Abhishek Das will be eager to fill in for him.
But even if Sen wants to rest a few players before the big match in China, his hands may be tied here. Mohun Bagan have a chance to regain the pole position in the table here, and after dropping points against East Bengal, they will desperately want to seal a win here. The league is shorter and dropped points can be costly. So even if Sen switches to a single striker up front to allow Jeje Lalpekhlua and Cornell Glen to sit out for at least parts of the game, Katsumi Yusa and Sony Norde are likely to be in the first eleven. In the midfield, Pankaj Moula may get a look-see.
So as a contest, it will see both clubs field strong teams. The Mohun Bagan attack will have a job in their hands, breaking down the hardened Shivajians defence; especially Subrata Paul who has a good record playing against his old club. We are not likely to see too many goals, because Mohun Bagan will play it safe to conserve energy for the next match.
The big question about this game, however, is how much it will tire out the Mohun Bagan players and how much that will affect their performance against Shandong Luneng Taishan.