Pune FC is keen to build upon their unbeaten run as they ready to square-off with Churchill Brothers SC in an I-League Round-5 at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Mhalunge-Balewadi, on Saturday.
The clash between the guests – the defending champions and hosts – the runners-up, thus serves up a delight for both teams aiming to achieve their own missions.
Pune FC (7 points), to begin with, enjoys second place on the table after having their best start ever. In contrast, Churchill Brothers (2 points), positioned nine places lower, will seek a change in fortune on the morrow.
The visitors, so far, have been disappointing. Four games, one goal is not quite the credo they boast. In fact, the results have had its toll with Technical Director Sukhwinder Singh resigning earlier this week, a few months after joining. Instead, in comes Subhash Bhowmick, the experienced TD who led them to their second league title last season.
Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei says: “They are a team who is currently struggling, but definitely a team that plays for trophies. Moreover, when a team fires a coach there always is a new beginning with new energy.”
The Goans have made a host of changes to their squad with a number of players from the title-winning side moving out. Portuguese playmaker Hugo Machado, an ex-Sporting Lisbon youth product, will be the player dictating the tempo in attacking areas, while Indian medio Lenny Rodrigues pulls the strings from deeper.
New foreign arrivals – Nigerian Hammed Adesope and Syrian Al Kaddour – along with Gabonese striker Henri Antchouet and retained players defenders D. Ravanan, Denzil Franco, Raju Yumnam and winger Bineesh Balan will form the core of the team. They will be supported by fellow Indian signings winger Anthony Pereira, striker Balwant Singh and ‘keeper Arindam Bhattacharya.
On the other hand, the hosts go into the crucial game on the back of a 2-0 home win over Mohun Bagan and are high on confidence.
Two wins and a draw in the opening three games means that Pune FC’s unbeaten run now stretches to eight matches (7 wins and 1 draw) from last season. However, the fact that two defeats against the Goans last season cost the championship only adds up in Pune FC’s build up to push further.
“We are ambitious and are busy in our plans to stay on top of the league,” adds the Pune FC Coach.
However, with a mission set, Pune FC will start Saturday’s game without striker Raul Fabiani. The tall striker has been ruled out due to injury, which he picked up in the last round against Mohun Bagan.
Fabiani will thus miss his second match of the season and importantly will have Coach Mike Snoei employ changes in the roles of few players in the starting line-up. Among the options the Coach has for the striker position is; Thongkhosiem Haokip and Prakash Thorat.
“He (Fabiani) suffered a bad injury in the last match and is recovering and thus needs to sit out.”
Local boy Thorat, in fact, has not yet been fielded in the league and thus the line-up will perhaps be interesting.
Medio Dhanapal Ganesh has returned to training, while playmaker Fanai Lalrempuia is back from national duty and available for selection.
Churchill Brothers, meanwhile, is reported to also have striker Henri Antchouet doubtful for the fixture after aggravating his injury in their draw against Rangdajied United in their previous game.
Pune FC, meanwhile, play their opponents for the second time this season. Earlier, the two clashed in pre-season with Pune FC coming triumphs 2-1. However, the change in technical staff certainly points to a change in strategy and a fresh start for the Goans.
Another record Pune FC will want to set straight is the head-to-head record at home. The hosts have lost last three consecutive games against Churchill Bros. in the League with the last home victory logged back in 2009-10. In fact, all Pune FC losses have come with Pune FC failing to breach the rivals goal.
Interestingly, Pune FC’s last 3 matches have ended in defeats to the Goans under Bhowmick’s stewardship.
All defeats have been costly: at the end of 2011-2012 season, back when Bhowmick was newly appointed, his counter-attacking strategy helped the visitors to a win which propelled them to a finish above Pune FC late on in the season. Then in the last season, the narrow home and away defeats to the eventual champions proved decisive in final analysis – as Pune FC finished only 3 points adrift and ended runner’s up.
The clash between the two teams has seen the away side picking up wins more times (five times) compared to home sides (twice). In eight games so far Pune FC has secured three wins compared to the visitors’ four. A win on Saturday will balance the head-to-head.
Another incentive is that a Pune FC win with an appropriate scoreline would translate into a joint top position (with current leaders Bengaluru not playing this round) and depending on result between Salgaocar and Mumbai FC on Friday.