Table toppers Bengaluru FC host title contenders Pune FC as the race for the I-League title heats up…
Bengaluru FC will be hoping to make the most of an outstanding support as they face third placed Pune FC in their final home game of the 2013-14 I-League season.
Both teams crashed to shock defeats in the previous game week as Bengaluru FC were routed 3-0 by Shillong Lajong FC and Pune FC crashed to a 3-2 defeat against Churchill Brothers following the Red Machines' late rally.
Ashley Westwood’s side have been formidable at home having picked up 24 out of a possible 30 points, having won 7 times and losing just once in the process.
Westwood chose to concentrate on his team's performances rather than on their title chances. “For me, our performance will always be more important than the three points. We have always put on a committed, wholehearted and entertaining show and I expect the team to do just that on Friday. If the title happens to come our way, we will take it,” he said.
The Blues skipper and top scorer Sunil Chhetri recognized the importance of the fixture. In his interview with Goal, he said, “We have a three point advantage. We have four games to go and have to look at ourselves but the next game is the most crucial one against a team (Pune FC) also eyeing the championship. It’s a six pointer and it’s massive."
The big news for the home side is that Robin Singh is expected to be fit for the clash. Goalkeeper Pawan Kumar and center back Curtis Osano were given the marching orders in the game against Shillong and are expected to miss out.
Youngster Gurtej Singh who is expected to take Osano's place alongside John Johnson said, “This is an important game to be playing in and I am only happy that the coach has shown confidence in my ability. We hope to churn out the result we need."
On Bengaluru's performances away from home, Westwood said, "We have always enjoyed playing at home and our fans have been wonderful."
Mike Snoei’s men find themselves 7 points behind Bengaluru FC, albeit having played a game less. The game is a must win for his side as their title hopes hinge on whether they can upset the home team.
Following their disappointing loss to Churchill, Snoei was determined to get a positive result against the league leaders in order to boost their title hopes.“We will try to do something against Bangalore (Bengaluru FC), but we needed that confidence for the Bangalore game and the three points (against Churchill)”, he said.
The Pune coach expressed his excitement in playing Bengaluru FC. He said, "We are excited to play. It's going to be nice game between two teams who want to play football. Bengaluru FC, like us, always likes to play football. There are very few teams in this league who like to play like that."
Snoei further added, "Bengaluru FC have an impressive home record and crowds fill the stadium and that does make you feel strong. Like Bengaluru, we too are a new club that is trying to bring the youth to the stadiums."
Pune FC skipper Douhou Pierre explained the importance of the game with respect to their title charge, "We lost in the last minute of the (previous) game and it upset us all. But it was good that Bengaluru FC lost too. This game on Friday is our last chance to stay in the hunt at the top. They have lost in Pune and will be looking for revenge but we are focused on our game."
Pune’s custodian, Amrinder Singh, like his counterpart Pawan Kumar, misses out the match due to his sending off in the previous game along with Anas Edathodika who is suspended following the accumulation of four yellow cards. The good news is the return of Calum Angus after missing the game against Churchill for personal reasons.
The last time the two teams met, the Red Lizards emerged victorious with a 1-0 score line courtesy of a James Meyer goal. As we enter the final stages of the season, both sides will be hoping to secure three points in a bid to lay their hands on the I-League title.
The game could be decided on fine margins as the two sides will be determined not to lose.