Hordes of Indian football aficionados will draw the curtains and sit with knotted hands, watching proceedings fervently on the Konkan coast and hoping a potboiler pans out, as Churchill Brothers take on I-League title contenders Aizawl FC at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, on Saturday, 15th April.
The hosts arrive into this tie on the back of two consecutive 0-0 draws against Shillong Lajong and Mumbai FC respectively. Derrick Pereira's appointment as coach of the Goan team has infused a sense of solidity and pride into the set-up, with the team having gone undefeated in their last five fixtures, with three wins and the two aforementioned draws.
The former DSK Shivajians coach knows full-well his side are on the cusp of survival in the top tier. Victory against Aizawl will seal their fate, relegating Mumbai FC. However, for that to happen, he needs to get his squad and tactics spot on against Khalid Jamil.
The Red Machines will in all likelyhood go, into the bout with a 4-4-1-1 formation, much like their earlier tie. Adil Khan and Keenan Almeida are likely to remain stalwarts in defense. Chesterpoul Lyghdoh and Brandon Fernnades have been setting the wings alight this season and that order isn't expected top chage for this match, when Perreira needs his attackers to fire on all cylinders.
Anthony Wolfe and Kromah will be expected to put on their striking boots to add to their combined tally of nine, while Bektur Talgat will be relied on to maintain shape in the middle of the park.
As for the opponents, Aizawl dribble into this fixture having been dealt a significant blow in their hopes to rein in a first ever I-League title for not just themsleves but aso for the entire north east region. They succumbed to a late, late Bengaluru FC goal that allowed Mohun Bagan to wrangle them in on the points table. They now sit second on the ladder, trailing Bagan on a worse head-to-head record.
Jamil, a seasoned coach in smash and grab, will need to rely on his old-school tactic of a late flurry in the season to salvage whatever he can, in this case a trophy.
A 4-4-2 is expected with Al Amna, Alfred Jaryan and Brandon Vanlamremdika and Laldanmawia Ralte forming a quadrant in attack behind Kamo Bayi and Jayesh Rane who will take charge of the proceedings upfront. Rane and young Brandon were particuarly effusive against the reigning Indian champions, hitting the Blues' defense on the counter-attack in their last tie.
A man who came in for particular praise was their Syrian medio, who was decribed as totem in the Mizaoram side's matrix.
Defense is expected to be prepped with the usual suspects viz. Zohmingliana Ralte, Ashutosh Mehta, Lalramchullova and Obumneme. A defeat will not signal the end of a puglisitc fight to the end, however, Jamil will be aware that the ball will firmly rest in Sanjoy Sen;s court, based on their matches.
With more than just pride on offer for two I-League teams who many thought had nothing to fight for, the race to the summit will get a lot more interesting at 4.30 PM IST.
CHURCHILL BROTHERS GOA
Injured : Rowilson Rodrigues
Doubtful : None
Suspended : None
Key Players : Ansumana Kromah
Injured : None
Doubtful : None
Suspended : None
Key Players : Mahmoud Al Amna