In what’s being billed as one of the fixtures of the I-League season given the brand of football both teams have been dishing out consistently, Bengaluru FC host Shillong club Royal Wahingdoh FC at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Friday.
But apart from the fluent football expected to be on show, it’s the points table that will have everyone’s attention given the almost-nothing gaps between the three teams at the top. Both Bengaluru and Wahingdoh are on 20 points, one behind leaders Mohun Bagan who host Salgaocar on the same day, making three points imperative for Ashley Westwood’s team.
“Royal Wahingdoh are joint second. They’ve scored quite a few goals and have got some good attacking players. I don’t think too many would have picked them out to be where they are being a new team coming into the League. The coach is doing something right and they seem to have clicked. They’re full of confidence having beaten East Bengal and Pune who are contenders for the top three. So they are up there on their merit and we’re going to have to try hard to come away with a good result,” said Westwood when asked for his thoughts on the game.
Confidence is the least of worries for either team who have strung together a good set of results over the last few game weeks. While Wahingdoh have picked up wins against title contenders Pune FC and East Bengal, Bengaluru have been dominant in their wins over Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa.
The Blues recorded their biggest win – a 4-0 result – in the away tie at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium but neither coach is taking any of that into the game for different reasons. While Westwood has always maintained that his team is as good as the last win they have notched, Santosh Kashyap believes it’s been a while since his side have turned a corner following that result and have only got better on the organisation front.
The points apart, the teams are on an even keel with fully fit squads to choose from. Midfielders Siam Hanghal and Shankar Sampingiraj – both of who missed the Blues’ last two games on account of being part of the India Under-23 squad that was in Bangladesh playing the AFC Championships – have returned to the squad. Also encouraging was Udanta Singh’s debut for the club last weekend when he came on as a substitute in the second half.
“Everyone’s fit; there are no injury concerns. We are a fully fit squad and we’ve also got Shankar and Siam back and they will be able to come into the squad if we feel we need them. Like I said, we look at what we think is best and run through some things in training and try a couple of things and find out who’s best for the system that we’re playing. We are playing three games in seven days so we can only take each game as it comes. We’ll have to see what happens in this one before we plan for the next,” said Westwood.
The game kicks off at 19.00 IST.