Updated: Jan 3
Panaji, Jan 2: Having remained unbeaten in their last two games, SC East Bengal would look to register their first win in the Hero Indian Super League when they host Odisha FC in their eighth fixture and first of 2021 at Tilak Maidan, Vasco on Sunday.
The Red-and-Golds salvaged a 2-2 draw against two-time Hero ISL champions Chennaiyin FC in their previous game, thanks to German midfielder Matti Steinmann's brace which canceled out CFC's lead twice. They currently stand tenth on the points table with three points from seven games (three draws and four losses).
For the first time in the league, SCEB Head Coach Robbie Fowler fielded an unchanged starting XI against Chennaiyin FC. Both goals came off set-pieces (Bikash Jairu's corners), which is an encouraging sign going forward.
Speaking about his side's progress at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Saturday, Fowler said, 'We are progressing well. We all know that we had to build on a new squad at the start of the season. Initially it was a bit difficult because we were trying to play catch-up. We were trying to train in between games but it was difficult to get the players execute what we wanted because the games were coming thick and fast.
'It's just a case of us getting better and fitter as we play more games. The boys have done really well in the past couple of weeks and there are lots of positives. Yes, we haven't won a game yet but we've lost only one of our last four games. We are taking the right steps for the benefit of the club'
SCEB have managed to score just five goals so far and it's needless to say that there is a lot of room for improvement in the final third. However, if their last two results (1-1 v Kerala Blasters FC and 2-2 v Chennaiyin FC) are anything to go by, it seems that the puzzle pieces are coming together.
The midfield quartet of Steinmann, Anthony Pilkington, Jacques Maghoma and Md Rafique is getting sharper with each game, creating chances aplenty, while captain Danny Fox's return from an injury layoff has added solidity to the backline. Goalkeeper Debjit Majumder, too, has been reasonably good between the sticks, having made 14 saves this season.
Fowler believes that the January transfer window would help him address the areas in the team that require attention. 'As a manager, you want to make every area in your team better. If the players are available and can come in, it's great. But we will have to work with what we have got at present. The players are getting better every single day. We are certainly looking at options. We, as a club, are ambitious and want to make every area better,' he said.
SCEB's attacking force has been bolstered by the inclusion of 22-year-old Nigerian forward Bright Enobakhare, who signed up for the club on January 1.
On being asked whether the former Wolves player would be available for selection on Sunday, Fowler replied, 'We had been looking for our seventh foreigner for a long time. He is a very clever player. I wouldn't say he is an archetypal No. 9 who would grab a lot of goals from that No. 9 position, but he is someone who can open up defenses. He has got quick feet and is very skilful. We are sure that he will strengthen the squad and we are delighted to have him. He is a young lad. When you get someone like Bright at his age, it's the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his talent to a good fanbase.'
Odisha FC, meanwhile, find themselves in a situation that is very much akin to that of SCEB. Having lost five and drawn two games, they are at the very bottom of the standings.
They held NorthEast United FC to a 2-2 draw at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim in their last outing, but lost four consecutive matches prior to that.
The Kalinga Warriors have some good players in their roster, but most of them have been largely inconsistent.
Brazilian forward Diego Mauricio has been OFC's leading scorer this season with three goals from seven games. He has also taken the maximum shots on target (6) for them, but lack of proper support for him upfront continues to haunt OFC manager Stuart Baxter. Their last season's second-highest goalscorer Manuel Onwu hasn't been able to replicate his past success as he has yet to score his first goal in the ongoing edition of the Hero ISL.
OFC's defense, anchored by Steven Taylor and Jacob Tratt, is also under the scanner as they haven't managed to keep a single clean sheet so far, besides conceding 11 goals.
Their 23-year-old goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh, though, merits mention as he has been a real bright spot for them, having made 17 saves in four matches with a save percentage of 73.91%.
How does Fowler rate his opponents? 'They (OFC) have had a tough time despite playing good football. Stuart Baxter is a great manager with a lot of reputation. He has got a relatively young squad with a little bit of experience in there. They have faltered at times in terms of giving goals away due to individual errors, which is similar to us. It has the makings of a good game. It will be an opportunity for both clubs to grab a win,' the Liverpool legend opined.