Panaji, Jan 28: SC East Bengal would look to bag their third Hero ISL victory when they face FC Goa in their second-leg encounter at the Fatorda Stadium on Friday. It will be SCEB's fourteenth fixture and seventh 'away' game this season.
The first-leg tie between these two sides ended 1-1 at the Tilak Maidan Stadium earlier this month, with Bright Enobakhare and Devendra Murgaokar scoring for SCEB and FCG respectively.
SCEB Assistant Coach Tony Grant addressed the media at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Thursday. Speaking about Friday's match, he said, 'We go all out to win every game. We've played three games with ten men this season. We didn't know any of the players before the start of the season, so the first ten games were mostly about knowing the players. With the higher-ranked teams dropping points, it gives every other team an opportunity to climb the ladder.'
The Red-and-Golds are currently placed in the tenth spot on the points table with twelve points from thirteen matches (two wins, six draws and five losses).
After enjoying a seven-match unbeaten run, SCEB suffered their first defeat since 15 December 2020 when they lost 0-1 to table-toppers Mumbai City FC at the Tilak Maidan last Friday.
The result isn't a true reflection of SCEB's performance in that game as they dominated the statistics and displayed a brilliant brand of passing football to outplay MCFC in the second-half. However, an equaliser eluded them despite the creation of three scoring opportunities.
Even though MCFC fared better in the first-half with Mourtada Fall netting the winner in the 27th minute, their defense was put under tremendous pressure as SCEB made frequent inroads into the final third and dominated the midfield in the latter half.
That said, SCEB's finishing has been rather underwhelming for the majority of the season, and their conversion rate must improve as they inch closer to the business end of the tournament.
Enobakhare, who didn't start in the last match, starred in the first-leg contest against FC Goa with a stunning strike, which has been dubbed by many as the "greatest goal" in Indian football in recent times. As usual, he will be a vital cog in SCEB's frontline.
Asked if Enobakhare should be used from the beginning, Grant replied, 'We'll use our experience to figure out how and when to field Bright. He has been fouled more times than he has touched the ball.'
Debjit Majumder, too, produced an excellent performance against FC Goa the last time around, making eight saves. He currently tops the leaderboard for most saves made this season with 45 saves.
Midfielder Ajay Chhetri, who was serving a one-match suspension, is expected to be available for selection on Friday.
The SCEB defenders will also need to be at the top of their game against a side that thrives on playing attacking football.
FCG have completed the most number of passes this season (6,620), which clearly evinces their penchant for flamboyance. They have also scored 18 goals so far and trail first-ranked MCFC by just one goal.
Juan Ferrando's men go into Friday's match having played out a 1-1 stalemate against Kerala Blasters FC in their previous outing.
The Gaurs presently occupy the third spot on the league table with twenty points from thirteen matches (five wins, five draws and three losses).
Spanish forward Igor Angulo has been FCG's top scorer this season and leads the race for the Golden Boot Award with nine goals to his credit.
Last season's League Winner's Shield winners, FCG bank on their host of talented midfielders to pave the way for most of their attacks, and the likes of Edu Bedia, Lenny Rodrigues, Jorge Ortiz Mendoza, Alexander Jesuraj and Brandon Fernandes have been thoroughly impressive thus far. In fact, Bedia is the first player to complete a thousand passes (1,004) this season.
However, they will miss the services of Iván González, James Donachie and Ishan Pandita against SCEB. While González received a red card in the previous match, Donachie and Pandita are nursing injuries.
Grant feels that the absence of these FCG players provides SCEB with an opportunity to get back to winning ways. 'It's an opportunity. We lost our captain early on this season, so we know it doesn't help. Every team depends a lot on its better players,' the former Everton player added before signing off.