Kolkata: Desperate for a win, a depleted Chirag United will face buoyant Pune FC in their return leg round 18 fixture of the I-League at Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
Chirag's star recruit Sunil Chhetri, goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal, defenders Arnab Mondal and Subhasish Roy Choudhury have been ruled out with injuries, which means technical director Subrata Bhattacharya will have to use his limited resources on the home condition.
On papers, seventh-placed Chirag United may be a point ahead of the Pune outfit in the I-League table, but the form factor is heavily tilted in the favour of the visitors who are unbeaten in their last five matches.
Chirag United, on the other hand, have remained winless in last four games and were also dealt with a bodyblow when they were thrashed 1-4 by Salgaocar in their last match at home that saw the India star striker play as a substitute in his maiden appearance for the team.
Beside looking to exploit the home advantage, Chirag will bank on their foreigner duo of Joshimar Martins and Junior Elijah to lead the team to a safety zone.
"We require three points to move into the safety zone...but at the same time, we should not under-estimate our opponents as they boast of some fine players in Subrata Pal and Izumi Arata among others," Bhattacharya said.
Pune FC, who are high on confidence after their 2-1 comeback win over Air India in the previous round, now Derrick Pereira's boys will look to earn full points to go ahead of Chirag United in the standings.
"We go into the game with a positive mood...We hope to maintain the same spirit like we did against Air India when we fought back despite being goal down," said Pereira.
Pune FC will miss out on Edmar Figueira but the Brazilian striker's absence will be compensated with the return of their leading goal scorer Mandjou Keita.
The Guniea striker, who has six goals to his credit this season, will return to the line-up after sitting out the against Air India, while medio Lester Fernandes will also make a comeback.
"We expect Keita to deliver the same way as Edmar has in his absence. The boys need to keep their heads down and stay focused as every point at this juncture of the league is crucial," Pereira said.
He further said they have learnt the lesson in a hard way when they squandered a 4-0 advantage to be held by Viva Kerala at home in a round 16 match.
"The game against Viva Kerala where we have forfeited a 4-0 advantage...the boys have understood that there can be no let up."
Pereira said their main challenge will be to go past Chirag's defence.
"Chirag United are a good side with a good strikeforce. But the challenge will be their defence, which we need to put pressure on."
From three meetings in the I-League so far, Pune FC have registered one win while two matches were drawn including the first-leg fixture that saw a 1-1 result.