Updated: Jan 6
Panaji, Jan 5: Having registered their maiden Hero ISL victory a couple of days back, SC East Bengal are now confident of carrying their winning momentum into Wednesday's 'home' clash against FC Goa at Tilak Maidan, Vasco.
Speaking about the contest at the pre-match Press conference on Tuesday, SC East Bengal Head Coach Robbie Fowler said, 'It's a totally different game. We know FC Goa and the players they have got. It's going to be an incredibly tough game, but we will go into it with more confidence because of our last result. We have played good football, but we could have done better at times in terms of possession. It's up to the players to execute the plans. We give them all the help leading up to games and from the sidelines.'
The 3-1 win over Odisha FC at the same venue on Sunday put an end to SCEB's seven-match winless run and helped them extend their unbeaten streak to three matches. Anthony Pilkington, Jacques Maghoma and debutant Bright Enobakhare starred in that win with a goal each. The Red-and-Golds currently stand tenth on the points table with six points from eight matches (one win, three draws and four losses).
Has that result eased some pressure on the team? 'It was a statement we had been trying to make since the start of the season. We want to win games. The boys are in a better space now as compared to a few weeks back. I always tell them to play the way they can because if you do that, you are going to win more games. But we will not get carried away,' Fowler said.
Despite creating a plethora of chances, goals had been eluding SCEB in their first four matches. However, their finishing prowess in the final third has improved drastically of late, as is evident from their eight goals in the last four games.
Their biggest strength has been their midfield quartet of Pilkington, Maghoma, Md Rafique and Matti Steinmann, who have engineered most of their attacking moves and applied constant pressure on opposition defenses, earning crucial set-pieces in the process. Interestingly, half of their goals so far have come off set-pieces.
Pilkington, fresh from his maiden Hero ISL goal, will be high on confidence against FC Goa. His 25 shots have been the most by any SCEB player so far and his combination with Maghoma is a potent weapon for Fowler.
Adding more sharpness to the SCEB frontline, 22-year old Nigerian forward Bright Enobakhare grabbed eyeballs in the 20 minutes that he played against Odisha FC, scoring a goal and ripping the opposition defense.
Fowler agreed that Enobakhare's stellar Hero ISL debut would cause the SCEB think-tank selection headaches, but he deemed it a "healthy headache". 'It's a good thing to have quality players in your side. With Bright's addition, we can explore different formations now. We will look to give all players enough game time,' the Liverpool legend added.
With Raju Gaikwad's induction, the SCEB defense looks stronger, but defensive lapses continue to be a cause of concern. In the last game, Odisha FC came close to equalising multiple times, but were thwarted by an in-form Debjit Majumder, who made some fine saves to take his save tally to twenty this season. How does the SCEB Head Coach look at it?
'It's not nice conceding goals. You always want to keep clean sheets, but sometimes you have to give the opposition side due credit. Teams will score, but the important thing is the result. Even if we concede two goals every game, but end up on the winning side, I will have no problem.'
Their backline will be put to test by FC Goa as they will be up against Igor Angulo, this season's leading scorer so far with nine goals.
The Gaurs are currently placed third on the points table with fourteen points from nine games (four wins, two draws and three losses). They came back from behind to snatch a 2-1 win against Hyderabad FC in their last game, courtesy goals from Ishan Pandita and Angulo in the dying minutes.
FCG's forte has been their passing football as they top the passing charts with 4,625 passes – 673 more than second-placed Mumbai City FC.
FCG manager Juan Ferrando's preferred formation has been 4-2-3-1 with midfielders Edu Bedia, Lenny Rodrigues, Jorge Ortiz Mendoza, Alexander Jesuraj, aided by some fluid football from Ivan Gonzalez, James Donachie and Seriton Fernandes at the back, paving the way for most of their attacks.
What are SCEB's plans to stop their next opponents? 'All the teams are strong this season, but we have seen how they play and figured out their strong and weak areas. It's up to our players to work hard – to cover certain areas and communicate well among themselves, especially the defenders. We are going to go out there with the aim of winning three points and not just stopping Goa,' Fowler opined.