THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Bengaluru FC look to bounce back strongly

Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC

I-League leaders Bengaluru FC take on Federation Cup champions Churchill Brothers SC in what promises to be an entertaining, penultimate home game for the Blues at the Bangalore Football Stadium, in Bangalore, on Saturday.

With the League on the home stretch of the season, 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 missed out on the chance to consolidate their lead at the top when, after a brilliant second-half fight, they went down 3-2 to bottom-placed Rangdajied United in Shillong last week. But Westwood isn’t pressing the panic button.

“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 and the Mariano Dias-coached team has a nice, little unbeaten run stretching to four games. The soft-spoken Dias is well aware of the mountain his team has to climb but is confident of using the momentum his team has built, to get a result in Bangalore. “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 ’keeper 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 fantastic brace in the national team’s 2-2 draw with Bangladesh, will be up against his former club and he highlighted the importance of the fixture. “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 and 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 senior 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 A game.  The match kicks off at 16.00 IST.