Kolkata, Mar 6: Buoyed by their away win against Shillong Lajong FC, leaders East Bengal next face a resurgent Churchill Brothers, as they seek to consolidate their position atop the standings, in I-League.
Australian forward Chris Payne struck a first-half double to seal a 2-1 win in Shillong on March 4 and it took the Trevor Morgan-coached side to 27 points from 12 outings, one point clear of Aizawl FC. [I-League 2017: Schedule for game week 13]
The red-and-gold camp is likely to be further bolstered by the return of their leading goal scorer this season, Willis Deon Plaza, who has netted six times.
While Plaza has recovered from a groin injury, Wedson Anselme is yet to regain full fitness and is likely to sit out.
Morgan has termed their away win in Shillong a very important in their maiden I-league title pursuit.
"But it's important that we stay focussed on Churchill match, the title race is still wide open. Every game is important but we are definitely one of the contenders."
East Bengal's defense was, however, a bit rusty in Shillong as centre-back Ivan Bukenya looked tired on a day Robin Gurung and Robert Lalthlmuana left many gaps on the field.
East Bengal had blanked Churchill Brothers 2-0 in their away fixture at Vasco on January 18 and they will be aiming for a double for the first time since 2004-05.
However, Churchill have the better head-to-head record against East Bengal, winning 14 of the 35 games these two have contested, while the hosts have won 12.
This tie has resulted in 87 total goals over the years, with an average of more than two goals per game. Having handed Mohun Bagan their first loss this season when they won 2-1 at home in their last match, Churchill Brothers camp would be confident.
They look a transformed side after Derrick Pereira took over, posting two wins in a row for the first time since 2013-14.
"It's a very good win for us. The players worked very hard to get these three points. There were a few moments where we lost focus in defence when we conceded the goal.
"Sony Norde was left free and we conceded from that," the former Pune coach said. "We'll play to win each and every match. We have to go with that positive attitude and this result will definitely help us in the future matches."