Bangalore, March 7 (IANS) Bengaluru FC will be seeking to consolidate their position at the top of the I-League when they face Federation Cup champions Churchill Brothers in their penultimate home game at the Bangalore Football Stadium here Saturday.
Bengaluru FC have a slender two-point lead over Pune FC while Sporting Clube de Goa, who are three points behind, still have a game in hand, leaving Ashley Westwood’s team with little room to falter.
Bengaluru’s position would have been far better but for a 2-3 loss to to bottom-placed Rangdajied United in Shillong last week, a defeat that could yet hurt the Blues.
“This has, by far, been the most competitive season of the I-League ever and there’s no guarantee of any result. There have been ups and down and the trend will continue. On current form, Churchill Brothers aren’t a side battling relegation and it’s going to be a good game,” said Westwood.
The Goan club, who were champions last year, have had a rough ride, battling relegation for most part of the season. However, their Federation Cup triumph in Kerala in January has sparked a turnaround.
The Mariano Dias-coached side has had an unbeaten run of four games and would be looking to extend the sequence of victories on the morrow. Despite the setbacks, Dias is confident of using the momentum his team has built to get a result.
“We still have eight games left and we are certain we will climb up the table. Bengaluru FC are a strong side who play attacking football and it will be a tough game for us. Also, they have an impressive record at home,” he said.
Churchill will be without regular goalkeeper Lalit Thapa who didn’t participate in training on match eve while midfielder Lenny Rodrigues, nursing a sore knee, should make the team. Costa Rican striker Christian Lagos hasn’t made the trip to Bangalore owing to family issues.
Bengaluru, on the other hand, have a completely fit squad.
“We even have winger Malemnganba Meitei, who was out for four months, back in the reckoning and he’s been looking sharp at training. A player back from injury is as good as a new signing,” said Westwood.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri, who is coming off a brace of goals in the Indian team’s 2-2 draw against Bangladesh earlier this week, will be up against his former club.
“It’s neck-and-neck now. We are at a very crucial juncture but we back ourselves at home. It’s going to be a very good game,” said the skipper.
The two clubs have met once in the I-League where Bengaluru FC rode on a Sean Rooney strike and a Chhetri brace to beat Churchill 3-1 in Goa. An encore would certainly give impetus to the Blues’ title charge.
But going through an equally pleasing patch of form is Churchill striker Balwant Singh. The youngster, who made his India debut against Bangladesh, has eight goals to his credit and Bengaluru FC’s defence, led by John Johnson and Curtis Osano will have to be on their on their toes.