Updated: Jan 22
Panaji, Jan 21: Unbeaten in seven matches, SC East Bengal will face a tough test when they host table-toppers Mumbai City FC in their reverse Hero ISL fixture at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, Vasco on Friday.
According to SCEB Assistant Coach Renedy Singh, the team will concentrate on the process it has been following in a bid to bag a good result on Friday. Addressing the media at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Thursday, he said, 'Mumbai is a very good side, but we need to focus on our own style. The boys have worked very hard in the last seven matches. It wasn't easy getting good results in our first four matches, but after our first-leg game against Kerala Blasters FC, the boys have done really well. It's a process that we cannot skip.'
The first-leg encounter between these two sides ended in a 0-3 victory for MCFC, with Adam Le Fondre (2) and Hernan Santana scoring the goals. SCEB skipper Danny Fox had to limp off the ground in the seventh minute of that match due to an injury, which weakened their backline significantly.
Asked what lesson the team has learnt from that defeat, Renedy replied, 'We knew it was going to be difficult for us in the first four to five matches because we entered the league late. There was hardly any preparation time for us. If you see that match, we didn't play badly and controlled it in patches. But if you lose a player like Fox early on, it's always difficult to bounce back. If we continue to follow the process we've following for the last seven matches, we're confident of producing a good result against MCFC.'
Putting behind the disappointment of an underwhelming start, the Red-and-Golds have managed to pick up the pieces and exhibit resolve in their approach as the business end of the tournament draws near.
Although they currently stand tenth on the league table with twelve points from as many games (two wins, six draws and four losses), there exists only a five-point gap between them and the team occupying the fourth spot (Hyderabad FC) at the moment.
SCEB go into Friday's contest on the back of two successive draws. Despite playing with ten men for over an hour, after midfielder Ajay Chhetri was given his marching orders in the 31st minute, Robbie Fowler's side managed to eke out a goalless draw against Chennaiyin FC in their last match at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim on Monday.
The standard of refereeing this season has been a major cause of concern for all teams, and Renedy expects referees to do better. 'With due respect to the referees, this (poor refereeing) has been a problem for all teams. I think they can do better. We've played with ten men three times this season, but haven't lost any of those games. People can understand that the refereeing can improve,' the former India captain opined.
SCEB goalkeeper Debjit Majumder continued his rich vein of form against CFC as he made six saves to win the Hero of the Match award and take his save tally to 41 - the highest so far this season.
Anthony Pilkington, Jacques Maghoma and Bright Enobakhare started together for the first time in that match and led SCEB's charge for goals as Fowler opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation. But Chhetri's red card meant that they had to change their plan of playing a high line and switch to a more compact defensive formation.
Credit must be given to SCEB's defense for seeing out the 90 + 6 minutes without conceding a goal and making some crucial clearances to ensure their third clean sheet this season.
Friday's match will also mark Narayan Das' 100th Hero ISL appearance. The left-back is the second-most capped player in the tournament's seven-year history and is only behind Mandar Rao Desai (104 caps), who'll also be seen in action on Friday, but in opposition colours.
MCFC, meanwhile, is arguably the most balanced side in the competition. Not only has their attacking brand of football been enjoyable for viewers and troublesome for opposition teams in equal measure, their defensive unit, too, is rock solid, having earned the most clean sheets (7) in the ongoing edition.
Sergio Lobera's team hasn't suffered a single defeat since losing their first game 0-1 to NorthEast United FC, and are currently on a ten-match unbeaten streak.
They played out a goalless draw against Hyderabad FC in their previous outing, but won four consecutive matches prior to that.
The Islanders lead the goal-scoring charts (17) at present, with Le Fondre being their top scorer with six goals. Bartholomew Ogbeche, signed from Kerala Blasters FC before the start of the season, has also netted four goals despite not playing the full ninety minutes in every match.
On the defensive front, Mourtada Fall, Desai and Amay Ranawade have been their star performers, while goalkeeper Amrinder Singh leads the race for the Golden Glove Award with a minutes-per-goal ratio of 247.5 in his eleven appearances. No wonder they've conceded the joint-least goals (4) this season.
MCFC's fluid style of play is engineered by their playmakers like Hugo Boumous, Bipin Singh, Hernan Santana, Cy Goddard and Raynier Fernandes, to name a few, while Ahmed Jahouh and Rowllin Borges add further solidity to their defense by screening the backline adroitly. Boumous, in fact, is the top-rated player in the ongoing edition with a rating of 7.88, and has made the maximum assists (5) thus far.
Sharing his thoughts about this MCFC side, Renedy said, 'Their foreigners have been in India for a long time, and everyone knows that they're doing really well. But we've also been unbeaten for the last seven matches, so it's going to be a good contest, albeit a tough one.'