ATK will be on the hunt for all three points when they square off against a resurgent FC Pune City at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune.
Pune have the better head-to-head record against ATK, winning five of the nine matches while the Kolkata-based side has come out on top just twice.
ATK, with 20 points from 14 games, are placed sixth on the table and are four points off the fourth spot.
Pune City is a spot below with 14 points but has five matches left to play, giving them an outside chance of getting into the top four.
However, anything less than victory at the Shree Chhatrapati Shivaji Sports Complex here on Sunday will be fatal for either team’s hopes. And that could set the tone for an engaging tussle. The hosts are coming into the tie on the back of a three-match winning run, the latest being a 2-1 away win over Chennaiyin FC. While the momentum is with the Stallions, new coach Phil Brown would want them to improve their defence which looked shaky at times in Chennai.
“My plan is to get my key players on the ball those who can win us the game. Last week (against Chennaiyin FC) we did that successfully towards the end, but we need that from the start. Even if we go a goal behind we need to win the game. We need to win the remaining games. We have to get our noses in front and then grow from that confidence,” said Brown.
Steve Coppell’s ATK were not really prolific up front in the initial part of the season. They had scored only 10 goals in the 12 matches before the break but have found the net three times in two matches now. After bringing in Edu Garcia in the winter transfer window, the team looks much more fluid and threatening going forward. The potential return of star striker Kalu Uche also adds more bite to the ATK attack.
The interplay between Manuel Lanzarote, Garcia and Everton Santos has been exquisite at times, as Jamshedpur FC found out in ATK’s last match which finished 2-1 in favour of the side from Kolkata. A win for ATK will put them within a point of fourth-placed NorthEast United and boost the confidence of the squad as they enter the business end of the league.
“The mood has been one of anticipation, we look forward to every game. We have been (close) to the top four, we have to make that gap as small as possible. We go into the final three matches and we are still in contact, literally, anything can happen,” said Coppell.
The defence led by John Johnson will need to be wary of Pune’s pacy frontmen and Coppell does have a dilemma in front of him as to whether to deploy Andre Bikey alongside John Johnson which would mean he will have to sacrifice a foreigner in the attack. ATK has not had the best of records against Pune City, winning only two of their nine meetings so far. But with the playoff spot at stake, they will have to pull off something special and win on Sunday.
FC Pune City: Kamaljit Singh (GK/C), Sarthak Golui, Martin Diaz, Sahil Panwar, Adil Khan, Marko Stankovic, Marcelo Pereira, Ashique Kuruniyan, Diego Carlos, Robin Singh, Iain Hume
ATK: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Arnab Mondal, Ricky Lallawmawma, Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, Edu Garcia, Hitesh Sharma, Manuel Lanzarote (C), Everton Santos