Kolkata, April 11: Pune FC hope for change in fortunes when they face Kolkata-giants East Bengal in a rescheduled I-League round three football encounter at the Salt Lake Stadium here Saturday.
Pune’s title aspirations have suffered a major setback since they have earned just one point from the last three league games. Against third-placed East Bengal (34 pts), the sixth-placed Pune outfit (31 pts) will have their task cut out.
Moreover, with a game in hand, Pune FC do have a chance to improve their current position and finish in the top-3 — something which will be on the back of the players’ minds providing added motivation.
The fixture will be Pune FC’s first against the Kolkata-side this season after it was postponed due to the hosts’ AFC Cup commitments back in October.
Moreover, it will be the first of the back-to-back games against East Bengal and with Pune FC hosting them the following week, they would like to earn maximum points before travelling back.
Furthermore, with their last win over East Bengal coming almost three years back, Pune FC will be eager to break their jinx and end a five-match winless run against the Kolkata-giants.
Pune FC go into the game after playing out a thrilling 3-3 away draw against Myanmar-side Nay Pyi Taw FC and will be keen to take positives out of it.
Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei was happy with the mental attitude shown by the team in the last game but expects more as Pune FC prepare for a final assault in the league.
“We will fight and work and try to bring in some quality. It’s a fantastic stadium and we had a great win against Mohammedan Sporting here, so hopefully we can make it very difficult for East Bengal,” said Snoei at the pre-match press conference.
Pune FC have travelled with the same 18-man squad from Myanmar to Kolkata while medio Mumtaz Akhtar has flown in from Pune as reinforcement giving the coach options ahead of the big game.
Striker Mirjan Pavlovic did participate in the training sessions, but might be a doubtful starter after the Australian picked up an injury early on in the previous match.
Hosts East Bengal go into the game on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run which includes four wins. Moreover, having four games in hand and a shot at the title, the Kolkata-side will be a tough nut to crack.
With South Sudan international and ex-Pune FC striker James Moga out injured, East Bengal will be banking heavily on Nigerian striker Chidi Edeh to get the goals upfront. Supporting him from the midfield will be Japanese playmaker Ryuiji Sueoka and winger Lalrindika Ralte and Harmanjot Khabra.
The hosts will also be missing the services of talismanic defender Uga Okpara. The Nigerian defender is injured leaving a hole in the defence, something Pune FC will hope to capitalise on.