Pune, Feb. 9 (IANS): FC Pune City and ATK lock horns in an intriguing Indian Super League (ISL) clash here on Sunday, knowing anything less than a win will peg them back a long way in the battle for a semi-final spot.
Both teams are in with a fighting chance of making it to the play-offs.
ATK, with 20 points from 14 games, are placed sixth on the table and are four points off the fourth spot. Pune are a spot below with 14 points but have five matches left to play, giving them an outside chance of getting into the top four.
However, anything less than victory at the Shree Chhatrapati Shivaji Sports Complex here on Sunday will be fatal to either teams’ hopes. And that could set the tone for an engaging tussle.
The hosts are coming into the tie on the back of a three-match winning run, the latest being a 2-1 away win over Chennaiyin FC. While the momentum is with the Stallions, new coach Phil Brown would want them to improve defence, which looked shaky at times in Chennai.
“My plan is to get my key players on the ball and that who can win us the game. Last week (against Chennaiyin FC) we did that successfully towards the end, but we need that from the start. Even if we go a goal behind we need to win the game. We need to win the remaining games. We have to get our noses in front and then grow from that confidence,” said coach Phil Brown.
Steve Coppell’s side were not really prolific up front in the initial part of the season. They had scored only 10 goals in the 12 matches before the break but have found the net three times in two matches now.
After bringing in Edu Garcia in the winter transfer window, the team looks more fluid and threatening going forward.
The potential return of star striker Kalu Uche also adds more bite to the ATK attack. The interplay between Manuel Lanzarote, Garcia and Everton Santos has been exquisite at times, as Jamshedpur FC found out in ATK’s last match which finished 2-1 in favour of the side from Kolkata.
A win for ATK will put them within a point of fourth-placed NorthEast United and boost confidence as they enter the business end of the league.
“The mood has been one of anticipation, we look forward to every game. We have been (close) to the top four, we have to make that gap as small as possible. We go into the final three matches and we are still in contact, literally, anything can happen,” said Coppell.
The defence led by John Johnson will need to be wary of Pune’s pacy frontmen and Coppell does have a dilemma in front of him as to whether to deploy Andre Bikey alongside John Johnson, which would mean he will have to sacrifice a foreigner in attack.