Pune: Kingfisher East Bengal have run into poor form of late. The recent losses to ONGC in an away match and to Chuchill Brothers at home came as a major blow to their chances of winning the I-League title.
Although East Bengal are five points behind leaders Churchill, who are on 38 points, the fact that the Goan side have played a match less — 15 — than their rivals keeps them in an advantageous position over the red-and-gold brigade.
Still, optimists in the East Bengal camp refuse to give up hope on the team’s title prospects.
No wonder the loss to Churchill dampened their spirits, but in order to keep the battle alive till the last lap, East Bengal will have to start afresh when they take on Pune FC, at the Balewadi Stadium, on Friday.
Pune FC, too, so far have played two matches less than East Bengal. Coach Derrick Pereira would rue the fact that his strikers in their previous match were not able to pierce through the defence of Sporting Clube de Goa, who were reduced to 10 men.
Much had been expected from James Moga, but the striker missed a flurry of chances.
Jeje Lalpekhlua was out of the tie due to double booking, but should be back on Friday. It remains to be seen whether the wily striker will be able to fire for his team.
For East Bengal, strikers Edeh Chidi and Manandeep Singh are likely to start in the upfront, while Australian forward Andrew Barisic may be brought on as a substitute later as the game progresses.
Coach Trevor James Morgan is likely to start with Harmanjyot Singh Khabra and Ishfaq Ahmed on the wings, while Penn Orji and Mehtab Hossain need to continue with the significant role they play in the central midfield.
With stopperback Uga Okpara out suspended, Raju Gaikwad looks likely to pair Arnab Das Sharma in the heart of the East Bengal defence.