Real Kashmir FC players warming up on the eve of the I-League match against Mohun Bagan.
Jammu & Kashmir is in the middle of Chillai Kalan — the 40 days of the harshest winter that set in earlier than usual this time around. Locals call it one of the coldest Decembers in recent years with even day temperatures recording sub-zero figures.
On Sunday, Mohun Bagan would be hoping to ignore all of this, including the fact that it arrives from three home games in warm and sultry Kolkata, when it takes on host and favourite Real Kashmir FC for a shot at going top of the table.
After a pre-season lasting more than five months, RKFC players had to wait till December 26 to play their first home match of the season. That was also the team’s first win for the season following two away draws and coach David Robertson admits the team is looking to get as many points from its home games as possible.
“We would like to use the home advantage as much as possible but they are a good footballing team and will be tough to stop if they get going. But we hope to get a win and go to eight points because it will only get tougher as the season goes on,” the Scotsman said on the eve of the game.
With almost 15 players retained from the side that finished third last season, co-ordination is one area Robertson is not worried about. What he is concerned about, though, is the unfamiliar situation of being a favourite this season.
“We have been doing well in the first half, attack well and take the lead but start the second half under pressure and falter, that is something we need to work on. Everyone expects us to do as well or better than the third position last year so there is that pressure for the first time for the club. But last year we had five points from four games while we have the same from three games this time so I think we are doing better,” he added.
The addition of Kallum Higginbotham has enhanced the attacking flair of the team while the defence, marshalled by captain Loveday Enyinnaya and Muhammed Hammad, needs to get tighter. With snowfall on the eve of the game and more expected on matchday, Mohun Bagan is likely to feel the chill despite an early 11.30 am start.
Currently third and having played an extra game, Bagan arrived in the city a day earlier to get accustomed. Coach Kibu Vicuna would be hoping new signing Senegalese Papa Babacar Diawara teams up well with the current top-scorer, Fran Gonzalez but the former is unlikely to start the game.