Mohun Bagan’s 10-match unbeaten run in the I-League has been as remarkable as the fact that they had to start from scratch this year, almost halfway into the 2012-13 season. Now that the Kolkata giants look good to stave off relegation from the league, there’s much to be said about their comeback.

The All India Football Federation (Aiff) had handed the team a hefty fine and deducted all their points after Bagan refused to play in the second half of a violence-hit match against East Bengal at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on 9 December.

But the three-time champions have shown strength in bouncing back from the embarrassment—the club was initially handed a two-year ban that was revoked after they agreed to pay a 2 crore fine.

“It was challenging and quite difficult for us," says the team’s Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa, who is being hailed as the saviour of the club by fans, over the phone from Kolkata. “We had to start from zero. The two teams who were above us had 10 and 13 points. So you can imagine the initial situation. But we decided to pick ourselves up and worked hard both physically and mentally." Bagan last won the League in 2001-02, when it was known as the National Football League (NFL).

Since Bagan lost 0-2 to Salgaocar on 20 January, following their reinstatement they have been on a roll—winning six and drawing four matches, which takes them out of the relegation zone, at least for now. Bagan, who still have four matches to play, are placed 12th with 22 points from 21 matches in the 14-team League table, two places above bottom-placed teams Air India (19 points) and United Sikkim FC (15).

“Statistically, we’re still not out of relegation, therefore we have to keep fighting and collect as many points as possible," adds Bencherifa, 45, who has earlier coached Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar.

Their next match is against League leaders Churchill Brothers SC (47 points) on 21 April at the Kalyani Stadium near Kolkata. Will Bagan be able to stop the Goans who are on the threshold of winning their second I-League title?

“That’s difficult to say now," says senior player Syed Rahim Nabi, who bore the brunt in the ill-fated match against East Bengal when a flying piece of rod hit him in the face. He had to be hospitalized with a fractured jaw.

“I still have the plates fixed in my jaw," he says. “But the good news is that we’re back in the I-League. I must thank our coach, who really supported us during that difficult time when we didn’t even know what would happen to our careers after Bagan were suspended for two years."

Violence had gripped Yuba Bharati Krirangan, with spectators hurling missiles on the pitch soon after Bagan’s striker Odafa Okolie was shown a red card. Down 0-1, the green-and-maroon brigade had refused to play in the second half after Nabi was hit.

Midfielder Manish Maithani, in his third season with Bagan, was taken aback at the turn of events. “It was disappointing. We lost all hope after we heard that the club will not be allowed to play in the I-League," he says.

Bagan’s terrific second run in the I-League is largely due to the formidable partnership of Okolie and Australian Tolgay Ozbey.

“Before the Aiff decision came, we had a gap of about three-four weeks. So instead of continuously thinking of the situation, we decided to prepare ourselves. We had a meeting with the players and gave them the necessary support and guidance. The management thankfully accepted the idea of having an eight-day camp outside Kolkata," Bencherifa recalls.

“That we didn’t play official games during this period has hurt us and that’s why we lost our first match against Salgaocar after coming back," says the Bagan coach, who has employed his skills to get the most out of a team that was on the brink of “extinction".

Aminul Islam is a sports writer based in Doha, Qatar.