I-L: Pune FC to face Churchill Bros
Pune FC hopes to bounce back to winning ways when they face the defending champions Churchill Brothers in a crucial I-League Round-22 game at Tilak Maidan in Vasco on Sunday.
Currently sitting third in the table, the game for Pune FC (30 pts) will be a must win for various reasons.
For starts, Pune FC will be keen to close the gap at the top of the table before they face leaders Bengaluru FC (37 pts) in the next round on Friday.
Moreover, just one win since the turn of the year, has seen Pune FC drop down to third place in the standings.
On the other hand, a good run of results has seen Salgaocar FC catch up and leapfrog Pune FC into the second place having played a game more.
Thus a win coupled with others results, will not only help Pune FC in reclaiming a top-2 spot in the table, but will also break their winless run and boost confidence of the team going into the final six rounds of the league.
Having played all three previous matches at the Duler Stadium, Pune FC's fourth and final game in Goa this season will also be the second time ever that they play at the Tilak Maidan.
In fact, Pune FC's only previous match at this venue was a 2-1 loss to Churchill in the same fixture last season.
Back then, the win helped Churchill to the league title and Pune FC will hope for a similar result in their favour this time around.
The game will also be the third time both teams face each other this season. Back in October, Pune FC ran out 1-0 winners in the I-League at home before going down 3-2 to the Goans in the Federation Cup at Kochi in January.
Both teams came into the game after playing two games in the AFC Cup during the last ten days with contrasting results.
While Churchill were at home and logged two consecutive wins (3-0 vs New Radiant, Maldives & 3-1 vs Home United, Singapore), Pune FC travelled overseas earning a draw in Hong Kong (2-2 vs Kitchee SC) whereas losing in Singapore (1-3 vs Tampines Rovers).
Despite having a poor run in the league this season and sitting 13th in the table with fifteen points, Churchill has been one of the in-form teams since the turn of the year winning eight out of twelve matches in all competitions including the Federation Cup triumph in January.
With influential Egyptian medio Abdelhamid Shabana set to miss out, the overseas trio of Australian defender Daniel Zeleny, Costa Rican striker Cristian Lagos and Trinidad & Tobago World Cupper Anthony Wolfe will form the core of the team.
In spite of the threat of Lagos and Wolfe up front, it is Churchill's Indian striker Balwant Singh with 13 goals in all competitions that has made the difference for them.
The recently called up India-international will be a man to mark for the Pune FC backline led by Anas Edathodika.
On Pune FC's team news front, medio Fanai Lalrempuia will be missing after suffering an injury during an after-match session in Singapore. While the youngster has travelled back to Pune, medio Dhanpal Ganesh and Shanmugam Venkatesh are back into the 18-man squad.
Defender Calum Angus will also be missing from action after travelling back to England for personal reasons.
Over the years, both teams have faced ten times with Churchill having a slight upper-hand with five wins compared to Pune FC's four. However, in Goa Pune FC have won twice compared to Churchill's sole victory last season.
The match kicks off at 5.00 PM on Sunday.
(Posted on 22-03-2014)