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Lot at stake for Churchill, JCT

Dempo lead the league with 27 points, but are under increasing pressure with JCT (25 points) and Churchill (23 points) breathing down their neck.

sports Updated: Jan 25, 2008 20:12 IST

Churchill Brothers' clash with JCT Phagwara on Saturday will offer a barometer on the state on the title race in the ongoing I-League football tournament.

JCT and Churchill are placed second and third respectively in the league, and their face-off in the 13th round at the Nehru Stadium here will put pressure on leaders Dempo Sports Club.

Dempo lead the league with 27 points, but are under increasing pressure with JCT (25 points) and Churchill (23 points) breathing down their neck.

"I would call this the match of the season," Churchill coach Karim Bencherifa told IANS.

"We dropped points at crucial stages, especially against Dempo. But, against JCT we cannot afford to give anything away. This is our last chance to make a determined bid for the title," the Moroccan coach added.

JCT won the first round 3-0 at Ludhiana, but Bencherifa is confident the first round was only an aberration as his side was unused to the cold weather.

Bencherifa was in a positive mood ahead of the crucial encounter, preferring to herald the continued improvement of his side rather than be concerned by their scratchy 2-1 win over bottom-placed Salgaocar in the last game.

The positives, according to Bencherifa, are Nigerian striker Odafe Okolie's sparkling form, Gourmangi Singh's consistency at the back and Chitra Sen's return to form and fitness at the centre of midfield.

Despite not losing to an away team at Nehru Stadium, Churchill can take nothing for granted against JCT, a side determined to win a national league title that they last won in 1996.

"It's a huge game for us," JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh said.

"Against Churchill we have an opportunity to close ranks on Dempo and prove our supremacy even away from home," maintains Sukhwinder.

"There is a lot at stake and you can expect an intense game," said India's former national coach.

Churchill are at full strength for the Republic Day match while JCT will be without Gurvinder Singh, suspended with dual bookings.