Pune, December 29: FC Pune City must overturn their poor home form and get back to winning ways without suspended coach Ranko Popovic as they host NorthEast United in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium here on Saturday (December 30).
Pune moved into the top four of the Hero ISL standings with a classy away victory against FC Goa, one of the pacesetters in the fourth season of the league. They have also recorded an away victory against Jamshedpur FC, the most difficult team to break down. Yet, at home, their form has been patchy as they have lost three of their four matches so far.
Up next is NorthEast United FC, a team that is languishing in the bottom half of the table. That said, Pune will be without suspended coach Ranko Popovic. The Serbian was handed a four-match ban for breaching Article 50 (misconduct against match officials) and Article 58 (offensive behaviour and fair play) after the last win in Goa.
The home team will surely miss Popovic's presence on the sidelines. But the bigger concern for assistant coach Vladica Grujic is replicating their away form at home.
"We have lost two games at home (consecutively) but everyone knows that with a little bit of luck, we could win too. The team is doing well and we have gotten better with every game. We don't have to think about what happened in the past," said Grujic.
Pune will fancy their chances against the visitors who have struggled for form this season, accumulating just four points from their six matches so far. The assistant coach, however, warned that NorthEast are better than what the points table suggests.
"They have four points but if you watch the games, they could have had many more. The team plays good football and tomorrow we will be facing a strong opponent," said Grujic.
Those words will please NorthEast United coach Joao de Deus, whose team has shone in patches but have lost three consecutive matches.
"If you see our games, you can see an organised team. You see a team that defends well. If you remove the game in Chennai where we conceded three goals, where I fielded a player who was sick and in a very bad condition, it's difficult to score against us. If you score, it's a bonus that we offer," said the Portuguese.
The coach is likely to stick to the same formation and tactics which he has employed so far in the league but has made it clear that his team cannot give away any "bonus" to their rivals.