I-League: Pune FC to face Shillong Lajong
In-form Pune FC will attempt to overcome Shillong Lajong FC who they have never beaten in any competition ever. The north-east team is the only I-League team that Pune FC has not conquered.
With a 7-match unbeaten streak, Pune FC have the aim in place but also face the task of the cold weather, artificial pitch and a near-total home team support at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Polo Ground).
For Pune FC, the I-League Round-13 encounter on Sunday turns out to be a test they need to clear and keep pace they have set this season.
Pune FC Coach Derrick Pereira, says, "Going by the conditions we need to acclimatize to the cold weather and the turf as well and get going."
"Yesterday (Thursday) we had our first session on the pitch. So far, we've been playing on natural grass in the last 5 matches and this game is important in view of the next 4 being on similar surfaces."
Pune FC has United Sikkim FC, Prayag United SC and Mohun Bagan up next to complete what is a tough away outing.
Both teams, so far, have faced off in six meetings ever since they gained promotion with four draws and two losses that stare against Pune FC.
Moreover, the other record Pune FC will want to correct is their scoring against the hosts. To date, Pune FC has netted a maximum of 1 goal, which going by their positive goal-scoring run of late can change.
While Pune FC go into this fixture as one of the most in-form teams in the league, Lajong have on the other hand had a mixed run of results, which has seen them pick up only 1 win in their last 8 matches and no wins in the last 4.
Pune FC Coach explains, "At home they have done well, but the same cannot be said in away games. It will be important to adjust to their style in comparison to the teams who we played earlier."
The host's however at home have often been a tough force to reckon with, having managed wins over fancied teams like PUSC, Mohun Bagan and Arrows, apart from holding East Bengal and Salgaocar FC to draws.
"This season I've seen (Shillong) Lajong FC in the Fed Cup and a game on television. Their style has changed from playing the ball around to the long ball now," explained the coach, in regard to SLFC overall.
The host's attack will be on-off India striker Sushil Singh, partnered by Nigerian Friday Gbeneme. The duo are regular starters and will be a job on hand for the Pune FC defence, with their understanding and aerial presence.
Incidentally, Sushil (4) and Friday (3) are the Top-2 individual scorers for SLFC.
Few injury concerns dog SLFC with the probability of full-back Lawma, winger Boithang Haokip, medio Ramlua, and Nigerian Ebi Sukore being absent.
SLFC still boast of a quality squad, which includes set-piece expert Renedy Singh on the right-flank, Japan-based North Korean defender Min Chol Son has been the key in defence and experienced local centre-back Passah returns to fitness.
Defender Govin Singh and midfielder Chitrasen Singh are also back fit and feature regularly.
Pune FC Coach on his part remained clear in thought. "No major changes in the side and am still to decide," was his curt answer.
The 18-member squad has three changes to the one that played PUSC at home. Ex-Lajong player Zohmingliana Ralte, Srikanth Ramu add up for defence options and medio Sukhwinder Singh replace N Mohanraj, Caitano Costa and Shanmugam Venkatesh.
While the team had a session on the eve of the game, the Coach explained, "The weather has been cold and good so far. Some players are used to it and so far it's been a mixed all round reaction."
"The mood among players is good and all are in the right spirit. I am hoping the cold won't be much on the morrow."
On needing the elusive win, the Coach says, "We always go with the thought of beating any team, if we have the faith in ability we can succeed."
With the Churchill Brothers match of this round postponed, Pune FC has a good opportunity to move up to second place in the standings behind Dempo SC, with a win.
FORM RUN (Last 5 Matches)
Pune FC (3rd; 23 pts): W-W-W-D-W
Shillong Lajong FC (8th; 13 pts): L-D-D-D-W
PFC 'Away' Form: W-W-W-W-L
SLFC 'Home' Form: D-W-L-W-L
28/01/12 I-L SLFC 1-1 Pune FC at Shillong
22/10/11 I-L Pune FC 0-0 SLFC at Pune
26/03/11 IFS Pune FC 1-2 SLFC at Kolkata
20/03/10 I-L SLFC 1-0 Pune FC at Shillong
27/12/09 FEC SLFC 1-1 Pune FC at Guwahati
08/11/09 I-L Pune FC 1-1 SLFC at Pune
14/04/09 I2D SLFC 2-0 Pune FC at Gurgaon