Ludhiana, as a city, demands patience, especially if one is an outsider. Time virtually stops or moves at its own pace. One doesn’t feel too welcome here, and add to it the unforgiving cold that sends shivers down the spine, and it is enough for a person to feel a little queasy. That is, however, the first impression of the town.
Now, if you manage to stay here for as long as Churchill Brothers have — which is five days — and ‘embrace the culture rather than be sceptical about it’, you could scoff at the above paragraph. Ludhiana, feels the Churchill Borthers’ Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa, “has been a blessing for his players.” The ‘reincarnated’ team, which in the second division last year, reached here on 12th of January, days before their tie against JCT, in a bid to get acclimatised to the ‘demanding conditions’.
And going by their practice session on Tuesday, their purpose behind the early arrival of them appears to have been fulfilled. Churchill Brothers now actually seem to be playing like their name suggests, and the squad is agog with anticipation about their match against JCT on Wednesday. Blessed with creative finesse and athletic exuberance, besides being marshalled by the disciplinarian Bencherifa, Churchill have been the surprise package of this year’s NFL and are lying second in the table, having garnered four points from two matches — they beat Sporting Clube de Goa 2-0 and drew with defending Champions Mahindra United 1-1. And now as they face the “biggest test of their campaign so far”, against a strong JCT side — which is impregnable at home — Bencherifa says that spending five days here has put his team in good stead to pull the rug from under JCT’s feet.
The team’s Nigerian duo of Okolie Odafa — who has netted all three goals of their campaign this year — and George Ekeh are in imperious touch, and along with Chandam Chitrsen and Robert, besides Kenyan defender Nicholas Muyoti, can be hard to rein in.
JCT, on the other hand, a highly efficient unit, would start as favourites for this third round match. With the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Edeh Chidi, Reneddy Singh, Praveen Kumar and Narender Singh within their ranks, it would be foolhardy to bet against JCT, especially as they would be playing at home where they have felled many a determined foe, most recently Mohun Bagan, who didn’t know what hit them.
“The nature of NFL is such that it is very difficult to get a result away from home,” said JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh.
“My team is constantly improving, as was evident during our last game against Bagan, and we would go all out,” he added.
Sukhwinder was bullish when told that Churchill were camping in his territory for five days. “That doesn’t matter,” he retorted. “What matters is what they do tomorrow.” Sukhwinder also revealed that there would be no changes in his side from the last game against Bagan and said he was confident of defeating the Goan outfit.
While the talent that runs through the JCT side is incontrovertible, they are also perceived as fairweathers friend who squeeze tightly to the smooth but recoil at the first sign of rough. The way they lost to Mohammedan Sporting after being 1-0 up illustrates that they can be remiss. Sukhwinder insists that team has improved in leaps and bounds since and have tightened the screws. Whether they really have, that Wednesday will tell.