Panaji, Dec 14: Having earned their first point in the Hero Indian Super League, by virtue of holding Jamshedpur FC to a 0-0 draw in their previous game, SC East Bengal would now look to go a step further and bag their first win, when they take on Hyderabad FC in their fifth fixture and third ‘away’ game at Tilak Maidan, Vasco on Tuesday.
The Red-and-Golds will be confident going into the contest as they were able to end their three-match losing streak and stage a brave fight with just 10 men on the park against a formidable Jamshedpur FC line-up at the same venue four days back.
Speaking about that performance at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Monday, SC East Bengal Head Coach Robbie Fowler said, ‘The fight we showed in the last game is what we are actually capable of. We are a team with a great work ethic and that was evident after we were down to ten men. People can now see that we are a team full of fighters.’
Despite having midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh sent off in the 25th minute for two bookings, the second of which looked dubious, SCEB battled hard for nearly 70 minutes and exhibited a solid defensive display to prevent their opponents from scoring. Centre-back Md Irshad stood like a rock in the heart of defense and finished the game with a successful tackle, a successful interception, two blocks, and four clearances to win the Hero of the Match award.
There has been a lot of talk about the standard of refereeing this season, but Fowler refused to join the bandwagon. ‘The referees have a difficult job in their hands—we all know that. We only want them to be a little more consistent and get some help,’ the Liverpool legend said.
Hyderabad FC, on the other hand, have had a contrasting story so far. Riding a four-match unbeaten run, with one win and three draws, the Nizams managed to restrict ATK Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 stalemate in their last game, thanks to an equalizer by Joao Victor that came off a spot-kick in the 65th minute. On being asked how he is planning to overcome HFC’s defensive rigidity, Fowler answered, ‘Hyderabad have had some gritty results so far, but this is a new game for us. We’re getting fitter and it’s going to be a big challenge for them as well. From what we’ve seen in the league so far, any team can beat any other team.’
HFC are currently placed sixth on the points table and even though they have yet to lose a game this season, a win has eluded them since their first fixture against Odisha FC, which ended in a 1-0 victory for them.
Their Spanish forward Aridane Santana has been their leading scorer so far, having netted two goals in three games, while seasoned Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul has managed to keep two clean sheets in his three appearances.
Hyderabad’s Indian contingent has drawn a lot of praise, with the likes of Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra, Liston Colaco, and Halicharan Narzary showing glimpses of their talent.
For the Red-and-Golds, lack of conversion in the attacking third continues to be a worry. However, Fowler asserted that his team always steps on the pitch with a winning mentality. ‘We’re not giving any excuse, but we played against the top three teams of the competition in our first three matches. But with the last game’s result, I think there is a lot of motivation for us to do well. We adopted a defensive approach in the game against Jamshedpur depending on how it panned out. We never go in there not wanting to win and that’s what I’m trying to instill in the boys.’
Fowler made four changes to the starting line-up for the Jamshedpur game, as Sankar Roy, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, and Md Rafique replaced Surchandra Singh, Debjit Majumder, Balwant Singh, and Wahengbam Angousana. However, goalkeeper Sankar Roy, who was making his Hero Indian Super League debut, was forced to walk off in the 61st minute owing to a hamstring strain. Throwing light on Roy’s fitness status and that of the other injured players, Fowler revealed, ‘We’ve assessed him [Roy]. Players will come back when they’re fit; we’re not keeping them away just for the sake of it. We’ve to gauge their fitness status from what the physios say. We’re not keeping any secret.’
Fowler also feels that there are plenty of positive takeaways from the previous game. ‘The most important lesson that we’ve learned from the previous game is that we can compete with any given team on our day. We’ve also shown that we’re a dogged side that can defend well when needed to. Our next task will be to try and score some goals. It’s not that we haven’t created enough chances. We’ll score goals and win a lot of games,’ he added.