Having won their two previous games (v Mohammedan SC & United SC) this season, Pune FC is in line for a possible third, this in turn would help end the year on a high.
Pune FC, currently third, with 24 points from 13 games, goes into this Round-16 encounter with a world of confidence particularly after breaking the Bagan away-match jinx last season by logging their first win and also netting for the first time against them.
In fact, Pune FC goes into the game with a six-match unbeaten run against Kolkata sides, which includes the first-leg 2-0 win over Bagan at Pune. Adding up are two wins from last year; 2-0 v/s Pailan Arrows and the 3-1 win at Kalyani along with the 1-1 draw against United SC in Pune this year.
For Pune FC, Interestingly, the venue will be the third this season after beginning at the Salt Lake Stadium, then travelling to Kalyani, and now to the Vidyasagar Krirangan, Barasat.
The home side, in contrast, are under pressure and go into the game following a 0-1 home loss to Dempo SC, before regaining confidence when they scored an important win in a Kolkata league game this midweek.
Bagan's recent struggles have been evident. So far, they have picked up just one win from their last eight league games. The poor run has dropped to tenth place in the league table.
With only eleven goals scored, Bagan are the lowest scorers in the league. In fact, four of these goals came in their recent 4-0 win over United SC. Apart from these goals, the hosts have netted only twice in the other seven games of their eight.
On the other hand, Bagan do boast of the best defense in the league along with Pune FC. Both teams have conceded only 12 goals so far, with the former playing a match more.
Bagan's scoring woes have been attributed largely to the absence of captain and star-striker Odafa Okolie. The out of regular action Nigerian has been inconsistent, fitness being the reason, in the last six games he has played.
The hosts, in fact, have been working hard to get some sting upfront. So far Bagan released Kenyan Eric Muranda and replaced him with ex-Shillong Lajong and Mohammedan striker Christopher Chizoba. The Nigerian, currently the Kolkata League top-scorer, opened his I-League account with a brace on debut against United SC, but has been quiet since.
Ahead of the game, Bagan have some absentees due to injuries, with attacker Sankar Oraon, midfielders Adil Khan, Manish Bhargav and M. Zakeer and defender Wahid Sali doubtful ahead of the clash. The latest to join the injured list is Manish Bhargav, who injured himself yesterday.
However, loan signings and ex-Arrows players left-back Souvik Ghosh, right-back Pritam Kotal and winger Shaiju Mon add enough depth into the squad.
The hosts do possess a relatively settled squad with long-serving Shilton Paul or experienced Sandip Nandy in goal, behind a defence manned by the Nigerian Celestine Eche (who incidentally saw Red in Pune in the reverse fixture) along with Kingshuk Debnath or India international Aibor Khongjee.
Bagan's midfield will be led by playmaker Denson Devadas along with Japanese attacking medio Katsumi Yusa. Local-youngster Ram Malik, along with CS Sabeeth, will look to provide support to the Nigerian attacking duo from the flanks.
Pune FC, on the other hand, have been stationed in Kolkata following their win over United SC preparing for this last important game of the year. Boosted by the return of medio Arata Izumi from suspension and Gurjinder Kumar from injury, Coach Mike Snoei has a fully fit 21-man squad at his disposal.
Over the years, both sides have met eleven times in all competitions with Bagan (4 wins) having a slight advantage over Pune FC (3 wins).
Victory on the morrow will not only balance the head-to-head, but could theoretically have Pune FC ascend to first or second position (depending on other results).
Pune FC (3rd, 24 points): W-L-L-D-D
Mohun Bagan AC (10th, 15 points): L-D-W-L-D
Head to head
10/10/13 - IL - Pune FC 2-0 Mohun Bagan
24/04/13 - IL - Mohun Bagan 1-3 Pune FC
08/03/13 - IFS - Mohun Bagan 3-0 Pune FC
02/12/12 - IL - Pune FC 2-2 Mohun Bagan
06/05/12 - IL - Mohun Bagan 2-0 Pune FC
03/01/12 - IL - Pune FC 2-1 Mohun Bagan
21/03/11 - IFS - Mohun Bagan 2-0 Pune FC
12/02/11 - IL - Mohun Bagan 0-0 Pune FC
03/12/10 - IL - Pune FC 1-1 Mohun Bagan
10/03/10 - IL - Mohun Bagan 0-0 Pune FC
13/11/09 - IL - Pune FC 1-3 Mohun Bagan
--IBNS (Posted on 20-12-2013)