SRINAGAR: When Mohammedan Sporting and Real Kashmir met earlier this season in the Hero I-League, the former had grabbed full points, courtesy a second-half strike by Marcus Joseph. But the snow leopards are different beasts when they play in their own backyard – TRC Stadium. Besides, Mehrajuddin Wadoo is not in the coach’s corner anymore. His replacement Noel-Gifton Williams prefers a more attacking brand of football, which has earned them four points in the last two matches. The Kolkata side, therefore, will have their task cut out when these two teams meet again here on Saturday.

Mohammedan Sporting coach Kibu Vicuna said on Friday that no matter what the situation, playing at this venue is always tough. “We know that whenever you come to Srinagar, things are going to be tough because of the quality Real Kashmir have. The unusual weather and pitch obviously make it doubly difficult.”

He also did not think there was anything in their win in Kolkata that his team can learn from. “The conditions are very different, the squads have changed and even Real Kashmir’s coach has changed,” he said.

However, the Spanish coach said he and his team have worked on their own game accordingly.

It has become clear that neither of these two teams are in the running for the Hero I-League title. It is more about survival now. Both Vicuna and Williams are trying to win as many points as possible in the last few matches to avoid the drop. Vicuna’s boys have been either unlucky or wasteful many a time this season to be in the eighth spot with 20 points from 17 matches.

Real Kashmir, on the other hand, have not been able to balance their away form with the home form. They have been almost unbeatable at home but struggled to win when they had to play a string of matches away from home. As a result, they are languishing in the ninth spot on the table with 20 points in 16 matches. With change in strategy, formation and personnel under Noel-Williams, they have looked a better side in the victory against Sudeva Delhi and the draw against NEROCA. They have also netted six goals in those two matches, with defenders like Richard Agyemang and Jestin George scoring, too. That means the Mohammedan Sporting defence, consisting of Sairuatkima, Ousmane Ndiaye, Sandip Mandi, Sebastian Thangmuansang and the like have more to worry about than just Ibrahim Nurudeen or Wadudu Yakubu.

Noel-Williams is expecting a tough fight from the Black and White Brigade because “they have some exciting players as well as some very experienced ones.”

His penchant for playing attractive football shone through when he said, “We’re in front of our home fans, so we’re excited to score goals and win.”

Talking about the first-leg defeat to the same opponent, he said, “That won’t create pressure on my players. Had I been the coach back then, it could have. But I have come with a new philosophy, new tactics. So whatever happened before doesn’t matter.”

“I’m very happy with what the boys have achieved in the two games we played since I took charge,” he added. Williams also indicated that he could tweak a couple of things tomorrow to surprise Mohammedan Sporting.

The match will be telecast live on Eurosport, DD Sports and Discovery Plus OTT platform from 2 pm IST.


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