Aware of the task on hand, Sunday's Round 24 encounter at the Ambedkar Stadium, here has several other reasons for Pune FC to stay focused and optimistic.
While getting back to winning ways, following the loss to Churchill Brothers, tops the agenda ahead of the remaining rounds, the encounter also turns out to be Pune FC's 100th 'elite' I-League game. Moreover, chasing 2nd place will be another reason to come out strong.
Pune FC Coach Derrick Pereira says, "We are in the hunt and we need to stay motivated with the fact. Our mission hereon will be to win all our games, which requires a lot of hard work to achieve."
Currently Pune FC boasts of 37 points (21 matches) and is placed behind leaders Churchill Brothers (47 pts; 22 matches) and East Bengal (42 pts; 24 games).
"We need to do our best as we stand in line with the opportunity... the rest I leave it to the Almighty," the Coach adds. Statistically, Pune FC will hope Churchill Brothers drop points significantly to enable a top finish.
With Pune FC set with their mission, their opponents ONGC have been tricky for visiting teams in the past, a fact, Pune FC Coach is aware of. Sample this: ONGC have only lost once in their home-ground, the least by any other team in the league this season.
Add the fact that ONGC, who were rooted to the bottom of the table after Round 11, have dramatically turned around their fortunes ever since ex-Bagan and Air-India coach Santosh Kashyap took charge, is a factor to keep an eye on.
With the change in system to a 5-man defence brought about under the new coach, ONGC's results in the 12 I-league games since have never looked back: they've lost only once; won 6; scored in each and conceded more than once only that single loss.
Pune FC Coach explains, "They have been good at home, but I do believe we are a better squad and potentially are much capable. To me it's a gettable match. I have confidence in my players who will be out themselves to prove they are better.
ONGC go into the game with a 5-match unbeaten streak something Pune FC will need to check and hope to draw inspiration of being the best travelers.
The mainstay of ONGC's run has been their foreign duo - Liberian striker Eric Brown (7 goals) and Japanese attacking midfielder Katsumi Yusa (5 goals) upfront. Likewise, Nigerian defender Hassan Adeola and Sikkimese sweeper Robin Gurung makes up a tough defence. In addition, ONGC have added striker Muritala Ali to their firepower upfront.
Pune FC on their part go into the game with 5 changes to the 18-squad that travelled to Goa. In the defence Zohmingliana Ralte comes in place of Caitano Costa, Nallappan Mohanraj replaces an injured Gurjinder Kumar on the left wing position.
Likewise, in the midfield Sukhwinder Singh and Khanthang Paite make way for Arata Izumi and Vellington Rocha. The fifth change is Under-20 central midfielder Lalrempuia (for Subash Singh). In fact, Arata returns after serving a one-match suspension.
Historically, Pune FC is unbeaten to ONGC in 4 meeting since promotion to I-League in 2009, with 2 wins and 2 draws. One of those meetings was in fact at the current temporary home of ONGC, the Ambedkar Stadium, where PFC had drawn 1-1 in last season's Durand Cup. That match had incidentally witnessed PFC winger Karma Tsewang's first ever goal for Pune FC.
Having won the first-leg (3-2), incidentally Pune FC's season opener in the league, Pune FC will be hoping to enact the same. The only difference between then and now will be a change in venue and above all the Delhi afternoon heat, which makes up a big challenge.
FORM RUN (Last 5 Matches)
ONGC (8th; 30 pts): D-D-D-W-W
Pune FC (4th; 37 pts): L-W-D-W-L
ONGC 'Home' Form: D-W-W-W-D-W-D-W-D-L-D
PFC 'Away' Form: L-W-L-W-W-W-W-W-W-L
8/10/12 IL Pune FC 3-2 ONGC at Pune
5/10/11 DC ONGC 1-1 Pune FC at Delhi
13/3/11 IL Pune FC 1-0 ONGC at Pune
23/12/10 IL ONGC 1-1 Pune FC at Kolhapur
31/3/09 I2D ONGC 2-0 Pune FC at Delhi
16/8/08 DCQ ONGC 2-0 Pune FC at Delhi
5/4/08 I2D Pune FC 1-1 ONGC at Delhi
--IBNS (Posted on 13-04-2013)