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Stage set for the ‘big one’ as Bengaluru FC host East Bengal

Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood with Joshua Walker

Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood with Joshua Walker

Billed as one of the clashes of the season, Bengaluru FC will host rivals East Bengal Club at the Kanteerava Stadium, on Sunday. With the I-League reaching its business end, the Blues will look to close the gap on league leaders Mohun Bagan AC while a win for East Bengal would take them above Ashley Westwood’s side.

Four defeats in four meetings may mean history and the numbers are against Bengaluru but Westwood refuses to make much of it. “We’ve never beaten them from a result perspective but from a performance perspective, we’ve got the better of them on numerous occasions. It’s just that we never had the rub of the green go our way. So, it isn’t like we are coming up against a side that’s better than us.”

The Blues had dominated the reverse leg of the fixture played early this year but an Abinash Ruidas goal against the run of play meant Bengaluru were left to rue missed chances. However both coaches are of the opinion thatSunday evening will be a completely new slate. While the hosts are on 28 points from 15 games, three behind leaders Mohun Bagan who were to play Mumbai FC later in the day, East Bengal are sitting fourth on the table with 26 points.

The game also pits the top-scorer of the I-League in Ranti Martins Soleye against what is one the best defences in the league in what will be an interesting sub-plot on the night. Spearheaded by John Johnson and Curtis Osano, the Blues’ back four have conceded just two goals in their last five games in all competitions and Westwood says the team isn’t really delving deep into Ranti’s run of form. “We have a good defence who are coming on the back of a few clean sheets in the League. I read in the press of Ranti saying he will be coming up against the toughest defender in the league in John Johnson. So, he’s more worried about us than we are about him. In my opinion he is just another player. Yes, he is in good form and has scored a few goals but we won’t be giving him any special attention. Instead, we will go out there and play our game,” said Westwood.

East Bengal coach Eelco Schattorie, who took over from Armand Colaco half-way through the season, said his team had traveled with a handicap owing to a combination of suspensions and injuries. Injured defenders Milan Susak, Arnab Mandal, Saumik Dey and midfielder Leo Bertos haven’t made the trip to Bengaluru while Schattorie isn’t certain about Dudu Omagbemi, Abhishek Das and Harmanjot Khabra who he hopes will shrug off niggles. Left-back Robert Lalthlamuana misses the game with a suspension. Westwood, meanwhile, has a completely fit and available squad to choose from.

Despite racking up an impressive streak of nine games without being beaten, Westwood maintained that the Blues’ confidence was restricted to their abilities. “We wouldn’t say we are over-confident. We are confident but in our abilities and physical strength. You can never tell what will happen on the day. What we do know is that we will be going out there and giving our 100%.” The game kicks off at 19.00 IST.