Pune FC will be eager to bounce back to winning ways when they take on Rangdajied United FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong on Wednesday.
The I-League Round-14 encounter also marks the beginning of the second phase of the Ieague and will be the first stop in the tough three-game away programme for Pune FC.
Keen to shrug off their Maha-Derby disappointment, Pune FC would like to better their away record this season with a second win on road while also maintaining their clean slate against Rangdajied.
A win will be important for Pune FC (3rd, 19pts); as it will be the first in five games since the international break in November and would propel them back into the second place in the standings.
Back when both sides met in October in Pune, a Calum Angus goal gave Pune FC all three points. Since then, there haven’t been significant changes in their respective table positions.
However, Rangdajied (12th, 8pts) have picked up their first win beating Mohun Bagan in the meantime and have moved up a place to from the bottom of the table.
On the other hand, Pune FC too has had a disappointing run of results picking up just six points in the last six games, almost similar to Rangdajied’s form run, and dropping a place down to third.
Post their loss to Pune FC, Santosh Kashyap-led Rangdajied have swept off their scoring blues netting in each of their last five games since. The return to fitness of certain key players and addition of some quality and experienced players has played a role in hosts’ recent upswing.
Captain and local star Eugeneson Lyngdoh is back fit and has been pulling the strings from the midfield. Japanese utility player Yohei Iwasaki has been playing an impact role with both goals and assists from his marauding left-back position while another defender Pratik Chaudhari is also fit and available. All these three players had missed the first-leg game at Balewadi.
The hosts have also brought in a lot of experienced players midway through the season. Former Pune FC captain and goalkeeper Subrata Paul, defender Gouramangi Singh, playmaker Tomba Singh and young striker Manandeep Singh add a new dimension to the team.
Up front, Rangdajied have bolstered their attack with former Japan-based North Korean striker Seong Kim, who got himself on the scoresheet against East Bengal in the previous game.
Partnering him will be Brazilian and ex-Pune FC striker Edmar Figueira, who although has been nursing an injury, might be fit to take to the field.
Apart from Edmar and Subrata, the Rangdajied squad also features ex-Pune FC players defender Lamine Tamba, striker Sandesh Gadkari, winger David Lalbiakzara and keeper Shambhu Mistry. However, Sandesh and Shambhu are doubtful to feature.
On the other hand, Pune FC features only one player in defender Zohmingliana Ralte who has previous plied his trade for Ar-Hima (as Rangdajied were previously known). The defender also returns to Shillong where he played for both Ar-Hima in 2007-08 and Shillong Lajong thereafter before joining Pune FC at the start of the 2012-13 season.
With the hosts scoring freely in the recent games, the Pune FC defense led by skipper Anas Edathodika and Angus will have their task cut out. Despite boasting the meanest defense in the league, Pune FC has let in goals in all of the last four games.
Upfront too, Pune FC haven’t managed to score more than one goal in the last five games and will hope to correct both figures on the morrow.
Though Rangdajied have been difficult to beat in Shillong, having only lost twice in six matches so far, they are the only team in the league yet to register a win at home.
Over the years, Pune FC have logged two wins in as many matches between the two sides while scoring four goals and conceding none.
Having said so, Pune FC will be keen to maintain their clean record against the hosts in cold conditions under floodlights on Wednesday.
Pune FC (3rd, 19 pts): L-D-D-D-W
Rangdajied United (12th, 8 points): L-W-D-D-D
06/03/12 – IFA Shield – Pune FC 3-0 Rangdajied Utd at Howrah
27/10/13 – IL – Pune FC 1-0 Rangdajied Utd at Pune