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TRAU look to extend perfect home record against Mohammedan Sporting

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IMPHAL: TRAU FC ended 2022 on a disastrous note, conceding six goals against Churchill Brothers. But since the turn of the year, they have looked like an ever-improving side. Leimapokpam Nandakumar Singh’s boys have won three of their four matches since January, losing only to city rivals NEROCA FC. The more impressive fact is, two of the three victories have come away from home – one of them against defending champions and strong title contenders Gokulam Kerala. At home, TRAU are yet to drop a single point, winning all five games this season. As a result, the Red Pythons are fourth on the Hero I-League table with 22 points from 13 matches.

Kolkata side Mohammedan Sporting, TRAU’s opponents at the Khuman Lampak Stadium here on Friday, are in a diametrically-opposite position. They are fourth from the bottom with 16 points from 14 matches and have been struggling in the new year. The Black and White Brigade have not done justice to the strength of their squad. Naturally, their only win since the resumption of Hero I-League has been against relegation-battling Mumbai Kenkre at the Cooperage Stadium.

On Thursday, Mohammedan head coach Kibu Vicuna sounded pragmatic about the difficulties ahead. Hence he has set modest targets. “We have to improve tactically as well as in terms of execution. We lost the last two matches and now our first objective is to stay out of the relegation zone.”

Vicuna’s big virtue is his awareness about the shortcomings of his side. “We have to improve our set pieces,” the Spanish coach pointed out.

A major problem for Vicuna has been the inconsistency of his forwards. Marcus Joseph is still the third-highest goalscorer in the league with seven goals, but has not inspired confidence in the last few matches. Giving Abiola Dauda the start in Joseph’s place has not helped either. If Mohammedan Sporting are to beat TRAU’s strong defence made up with the likes of Godfred Yeboah, Gerard Williams, Yendrembam Naresh Singh and Buanthanglun Samte – the forwards will have to find their scoring form.

It will also be a big test for Vicuna’s defence to contain attackers like Komron Tursunov, Nana Poku and the tireless Salam Johnson Singh. That is why, he specifically talked about the need to improve defensively. “If we are able to do that, our attack will also improve,” he remarked.

Talking about the opponents, the Mohammedan Sporting coach said, “TRAU are a good team, and they are on a roll. They won their last game away to Rajasthan. So we have a lot of respect for them.”

The confidence of good form was clear in the TRAU coach’s words. Even though they had lost to Mohammedan Sporting in the reverse fixture at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata, Nandakumar said, “The mood in the team is good. We have played Mohammedan before, and we know that we can beat them.”

The fact that TRAU have started to win away matches is a big source of that confidence. “By God’s grace, we’ve won all our home matches so far, and have begun to win away matches now. That’s why I have big expectations from my boys for tomorrow’s match.”

The match between TRAU and Mohammedan Sporting will be telecast live on Eurosport, DD Sports and Discovery Plus OTT platform at 4:30 PM IST.