Kolkata, Feb 6 (IANS) An upbeat East Bengal will look to build on their derby win and further cut the gap on league leaders Chennai City FC, when they take on Neroca FC in a crunch I-League encounter here on Thursday.
East Bengal, who breezed past arch-rivals Mohun Bagan 2-0 to stay in the hunt for the title, are placed fourth in the points table with 25 points, five adrift of Chennai.
Neroca, in fifth spot, are also on 25 points and will come into the tie on the back of a nail-biting 3-2 win over Indian Arrows.
The hosts, under Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez, would like to believe that they are peaking at the right time.
The club can finally avail the services of all their six foreigners. Enrique Esqueda has come back from his rib injury just before the derby and now the Mexican forward is fully fit to feature in Alejandro’s starting lineup.
“From now until the end of the season, all of our matches will be very difficult. This is a very good team and we will try to win this match. We need to get a strong start,” Menendez said on the eve of the match.
“It is a new match and we need three points to continue to remain in the title race. We are taking it match-by-match. We will see what happens in the next games. For our focus is on tomorrow’s (Thursday) game,” said the Spaniard.
The Spanish coach might make a change in the starting XI which defeated Mohun Bagan in their last game.
Esqueda is likely to partner Jobby Justin in the front. If Esqueda comes in then Jaime Santos, another hero from the derby, might move to the left flank relegating Toni Dovale to the bench.
Menendez expressed his disappointment over the scheduling of the I-League games as the red and gold brigade take on Real Kashmir in another important clash in Srinagar on Sunday, three days after their home tie against Neroca.
“This is a tough situation for us. This is not a good schedule for the I-League. If the league wants to grow big, they need to see these things. When you play so many matches in less time, it is bound to affect the performance of the teams,” he said.
The former Atletico Madrid coach stated that the most consistent team would go on to win silverware at the end of the season.
“We are just focusing on our next match. I have always said that the team who is consistent will win and so we have to perform consistently,” he added.
East Bengal don’t have any injury concerns going into the game with defenders Lalram Chullova and Johnny Acosta recovering from their respective injuries.
“We don’t have any special plans for any players. We are just focusing on things that we can do well against them. We don’t have any injuries. All the players are ready and we will field the best possible XI tomorrow.”
Coming to the visitors, Manuel Retamero’s side has collected just one point from their last four games after starting the season well.
Neroca have Chencho Gyeltshen in their ranks now and Retamero would hope he can solve their problems up front.
“I want to take the three points. Happy to have Chencho now. In the first match, they had Esqueda. Now some more good players like Justin, Dovale, Colado. We cannot afford to make a mistake. One mistake from us and they will score. We saw the same against Mohun Bagan,” Retamero said.
Neroca will like to avenge the defeat in the reverse fixture. Esqueda’s brace helped the Kolkata club clinch a win in Imphal in the very first match of the season.