Royal Wahingdoh will meet current I-League champions Bengaluru FC in an enticing tie at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, Shillong, with the present I-League leaders keen to add a fourth successive win to their nascent top division record, whilst the Blues seek to avoid writing another unwanted record into theirs – that of three successive defeats in a row.
Santosh Kashyap would be positive as he heads into this tie against Ashley Westwood, with record and form on his side. Wahingdoh are certainly playing some entertaining football but they have a methodical process about them as they go about registering three points game by game.
Last time around Kashyap’s men turned the screws on Bharat FC with some scintillating play in the second half as the Shillong residents fought back from a goal down. That itself shows they have plenty of grit and mental belief in their ability to turn matches on their heads.
Jackichand Singh was said to have been on the receiving end of a blow from Gouramangi Singh, in Bharat FC’s defense, and it is yet to be seen if he’ll be risked for the game against Bengaluru.
Densill Theobald is a man in form and with his creative flux at the fore, Kashyap will hope prying open the Bengaluru FC defense won’t be a problem. Kim Seong-Yong appears to be back to his best after scoring and shooting a few on target against Bharat FC, whilst Seityasen Singh’s goal scoring prowess cannot be undermined.
In defense, Lallalwnzuala was an outlet of attack in the final third from the right, as the diminutive wing-back contributed directly to Wahingdoh’s second in the last game. Loveday Okechekwu has been a pillar of reliability at the back for Kashyap’s men, as Nikhil Bernard has been stoic in goal.
“Any new game is a new challenge. At this level every team is a strong contender for a new side like us. Both Lajong and Salgaocar were experienced and even Bharat FC had a lot of experienced players in their ranks,” said Kashyap.
It’s into this cauldron that Westwood takes his Bengaluru team, who are currently suffering from a spate of bad form. Winless in their last two after scoring just one goal in three matches, the English coach really does seem to be at the threshold of his first real mini-crisis in Indian football.
For a start, it seems Bengaluru’s once venerable attack has lost it’s joy du verve and are now fumbling from match to match. What’s easy to pinpoint is Westwood’s frustration as he implies that his team had the beating of East Bengal yet lost as his men couldn’t finish off their chances.
Robin Singh, Sean Rooney and Sunil Chhetri were guilty of missing a few chances at close range for his team.
What will be particularly irritating for the Bengaluru staff is the ease with which John Johnson and Curtis Osano are being dissected in defense, considering they were the best combination at the back for the Federation Cup. Joshua Walker whilst partly effective in their last game, still seems to be finding his feet at the heart of the Blues’ midfield as Eugeneson Lyngdoh and him continue to find a working partnership.
What will make Westwood relax however is the fantastic bench strength his team espouse knowing there are ready replacements for him to rely on. Added pressure on the British coach will be the fact they’ve never beaten a Shillong team away from home and whilst a particularly tricky trip to Malaysia (against Johor FC) awaits them, they’ll want to end their round three match on a high.
“Despite the two losses the morale (of the team) is good. We have just lost two of the last nine games that we played so it’s not disastrous form and there is no reason to be down,” said Westwood.
All in all, this match has all the ingredients for a feisty winner takes all bonanza. Just how much either team wants their kitty of points will be dictated by their intensity on the pitch. None of these however, will want to take their foot off the gas, as neither can afford to trip.