Buoyed by their new found attacking prowess, a resurgent FC Pune City would look to notch up another win when they take on NorthEast United FC in an Indian Super League football fixture at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune on Tuesday.
Even though it seems quite unlikely, Pune, on five points from eight matches, were hoping to turn their fortunes with a good run of results to propel them further in contention for a play-off spot.
The international break seemed to have given Pune some hope as they finally managed to register their first win by beating Jamshedpur FC last week.
NorthEast United, on the other hand, won a thriller against Kerala Blasters with two goals in injury time. The win last week would have further boosted their confidence and the belief that they can qualify for the play-offs for the very first time in five seasons.
A lot is at stake in Tuesday's match at Balewadi. Pune could build a momentum from here onwards, while NorthEast -- being the dark horse this season -- could go one step further to cement their place in top four.
SQUADS -- The Stallions have been boosted with the signing of star striker Iain Hume, who coming out of a long injury showed flashes of brilliance in his brief time on the field.
On the wings, Ashique Kuruniyan has been in sublime form for the home side and has troubled the opposition defenders with his pace and dribbling skills. Interim coach Pradyum Reddy will hope that Marcelinho can get back to his best.
One of the key factors behind the long-awaited victory was the return of ace striker Iain Hume in the squad. Hume came on as a second-half substitute against Jamshedpur and was instrumental to the Stallions' late charge to grab the winner. Brazilian Marcelo Pereira, who has looked out of sorts in Pune's first few matches, also started showing glimpses of his old self after Hume's introduction.
Hume is a proven goal threat in the Hero ISL and his inclusion in the squad has been a huge boost for Pradyum Reddy's men, who struggled to score goals in their first few matches. The Canadian's presence on the field against NorthEast may turn out to be a big factor on Tuesday's match and it will be interesting to see if Reddy opts to start with Hume in his starting XI.
Interestingly, unlike the earlier seasons, NorthEast have a mean defence and have only conceded eight goals from seven games. This has given a lot of teeth to their forwards. Bartholomew Ogbeche has scored seven goals and is very much in the race for the Golden Boot alongside Ferran Corominas (8) and Sunil Chhetri (5).
His partnership with Uruguayan Federico Gallego up front has been the focal point of this NorthEast team, which seems well on their way to ensure a top-four finish. Substitute Juan Mascia's blitzkrieg in the last match against Kerala also proved that Schattorie has some game changers on the bench if his two first-choice attackers fail to make their mark on a match.
FORM -- The Stallions endured a horrendous start to their Hero ISL 2018-19 season, drawing two and losing five of their first seven matches of the season. Their eighth match against Jamshedpur, however, marked a welcome change for Pune after they picked up their first victory of the season courtesy a late goal from defender Matt Mills.
Pune have one of the worst defensive records in the league, having let in 17 goals. The Stallions' defence has failed to keep a single clean sheet this season and are the only team with the unsavoury record to their name. The likes of Matt Mills and Gurtej Singh will have to up their game if they are to keep out a very capable NorthEast attack featuring Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego.
FC Pune have scored eight goals from 33 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 64.52 per cent and have failed to keep even a single cleansheet.
Eelco Schattorie's NorthEast have been the most improved side this season. The Highlanders endured a torrid time last season and finished bottom of the league table with just 11 points from 18 matches. Such has been their transformation this season under Schattorie that NorthEast already have more points and wins than they had in the whole of last season. The team has already equalled their goal tally from last season with 12.
Another big factor playing in NorthEast's favour against Pune will be their away form. Three of the Highlanders' four wins this season have come on the road. A win for the Highlanders against Pune will also put them either at the top or in the second position of the table, depending on the result of Monday's match between Bengaluru FC and Delhi Dynamos FC.
NorthEast have scored 12 goals from 25 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 72.54 per cent and have managed to keep two cleansheets.
MANAGERS SPEAK -- Reddy has vowed to take the game to NorthEast United and will be hoping his star forwards trouble the Highlanders.
"We tried in a couple of games before the break to go with a more conservative approach and it didn't necessarily get us the results that we wanted. With the attacking options that we have in our squad, I think it is best for us to go with more of an attacking mindset because we need to get three points," he said.
"If you look at the way the league table is now, we need to get closer to Kerala, the team immediately above us (in seventh). We have to have that kind of an attacking mindset."
"Pune are under more pressure than us. We need to maintain where we are and (meet) expectations and Pune need to climb up. It will be an interesting game," Northeast coach Eelco Schattorie said.
"Pune have a squad with a lot of individual quality. They have some really good individual players that can make a difference. The weakness of Pune, for me, is very clear and hopefully, we can exploit them," said the Dutch coach.
HEAD-TO-HEAD -- Pune City and NorthEast United have faced each other eight times in which Pune have won four games while NorthEast won three games.
FC Pune City: Kamaljit Singh (GK), Gurtej Singh (C), Matt Mills, Ashutosh Mehta, Adil Khan, Ashique Kuruniyan, Robin Singh, Marko Stankovic, Marcelo Pereira, Diego Carlos, Iain Hume
NorthEast United FC: Pawan Kumar (GK), Reagan Singh, Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, Keegan Pereira, Rowllin Borges, Jose Leudo, Redeem Tlang, Federico Gallego, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Bartholomew Ogbeche (C)