Pune FC prepare to host North-East side Royal Wahingdoh in I-League
Pune FC will have their task cut out when they host north eastern side Royal Wahingdoh FC in a top-of-the-table I-League clash at the Shree Shivchhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi here Saturday.
The Round 8 encounter will be a crucial one for both sides who currently occupy the top two places in the standings and a win will be vital before the league takes a short break for international fixtures.
The clash will also be the first time second-placed Pune FC (12 points) and leaders Royal Wahingdoh (13) face-off in any competition.
Both sides go into the game on the back of contrasting results. While Royal Wahingdoh suffered a 1-2 loss to Mumbai FC at the Cooperage, Pune FC were held to a 1-1 draw by Sporting Clube de Goa at home.
However, having improved their performance vastly against Sporting after the clashes against Mohun Bagan and Dempo SC, Pune FC will be confident of their chances.
"We had a good game against Sporting last week. Despite missing a few key players, we played as per plan and created a host of chances, something we lacked in the previous games," said Pune FC head coach Karim Bencherifa.
"Royal Wahingdoh may be a newly promoted side but they are not top of the standings for nothing. They boast some exciting talent and play a good brand of attacking football and so we need to be at our best when we face them."
Despite having scored just once in the last three games, Pune FC continue to be the top scorers with 13 goals, four ahead of Wahingdoh, who follow in second place.
On the other hand, the visitors have one of the weakest defences which has conceded nine goals, something the Pune FC frontline led by Thongkhosiem Haokip and Ryuji Sueoka will be looking to exploit.
On the team news front, injuries to overseas players Darko Nikac and Edgar Marcelino have seen them miss out the last two games. However, with the duo making considerable progress they might take the field but a final decision will be made Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Santosh Kashyap-led Royal Wahingdoh have been on a fairytale ride in their first ever season in the top flight. Four wins in the opening seven games has helped them top the table after seven rounds.
Going into the game after a 1-2 loss against Mumbai FC, the Shillong-based side will be hoping to bounce bank and will depend heavily on overseas players Densil Theobald, Loveday Okechukwu, Kim Seong-Yong and Bekay Bawar. The likes of Jackichand Singh and Seityasen Singh have been in form and provide enough options in attack.
With top placed Wahingdoh, second-placed Pune FC and third-placed Mohun Bagan in action this weekend, a combination of results gives each side a chance of topping the table at the end of Round 8.