Updated: Dec 25, 2020
Panaji, Dec 24: SC East Bengal have yet to win a game in their maiden Hero Indian Super League campaign, but the team is gradually coming together as is evident from their last outing against Kerala Blasters FC, where they dominated the proceedings right from the start. That performance almost fetched them a win, but a last-gasp equaliser from Jeakson Singh meant that the game ended 1-1.
SCEB’s Irish attacking midfielder Anthony Pilkington was adjudged the Player of the Match for his splendid display upfront. His work rate and solo runs have been the talk of the town ever since he first donned the red-and-gold shirt and his consistency has made him a fan favourite.
Having played for several renowned British clubs like Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City, Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic, with goals against Manchester City and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United under his belt, in the past, the 32-year-old is currently getting his first taste of the Hero Indian Super League.
In a freewheeling chat with sceastbengal.co on Christmas Eve, Pilkington shared his thoughts about spending Christmas away from his family, how he motivates his teammates, his new role as a ‘No. 9’, how he plans to celebrate Christmas with his ‘second family’ here, and the team’s preparations for the next game against Chennaiyin FC on Boxing Day.
Q: You're away from your family on Christmas Eve this year. How difficult is it for you?
Obviously it’s difficult and different being away from my children, wife and the rest of the family at this time of the year. We always celebrate together. Normally I play football on Boxing Day, which will be the same this year as well, but the family won’t be here on Christmas Day. With the technology these days, we can stay in touch via FaceTime and Zoom calls, but it’s still going to be different. [It’s] Just one of those things that you’ve to get on with.
Q: We play Chennaiyin FC on Boxing Day. What is your assessment of them?
We always have to concentrate on the next game. They’re a good team and it’s going to be a tough game, but it’s one that we’re all looking forward to. In our last game against Kerala Blasters FC, we drew 1-1, but we thought we deserved more. We can take heart from that performance and hopefully we can start bagging the results that our performances deserve.
Q: How do you motivate your teammates after drawing a game that we should've won?
It was tough after the game because everyone was disappointed. It felt like a loss to concede so late after all the hard work and effort that we put into the game. We got a point from it, but we would’ve obviously liked the 3 points more. After the game, we just said to each other that we need to keep on going because the performances have been really good. It was great to see the young lads like Tomba and Gopi coming on and doing really well. It was Tomba’s first Hero ISL appearance and he played fantastically! Danny Fox is now back in the XI with his massive experience in the backline and leadership skills. So there are lots of positives from that game.
Q: We saw you play in a different position in the last game—as the lone striker upfront. Have you played in that position before and what did Gaffer tell you before the game?
It was different as compared to the positions I played in before. It doesn’t matter what position I play in. I’ve got a good understanding of the game and the different positions. So when Gaffer asked me if I would be comfortable playing in that position, I immediately agreed. I’ve enjoyed playing upfront once or twice in my career before. I would’ve enjoyed a lot more had we won that game and got those 3 points, but hopefully it’ll come on Boxing Day.
Q: So have we added another No. 9 to our roster now?
As I said before, if that’s where Gaffer wants me to play, I’m more than happy to play there. He makes the decisions as to whom to put where. If he asks me to do a certain job, I’ll of course do it for the team. I enjoy playing football and that’s what I want to do.
Q: We pressed a lot in the last game. Was it a strategy from the start?
Yeah, definitely. We were looking to win the ball higher up the pitch and with Foxy back in the side, you get a little bit more communication and organisation. Talking is massively important in football and you’ve to communicate with your teammates well. When it was right to press, we pressed in order to win the ball higher up the pitch and create more chances. Everyone is getting a lot fitter now. We got only two weeks for pre-season training. If you look at Kerala Blasters, they played six pre-season friendlies, whereas we’ve played six league games in total. So you can see the difference between the two teams in terms of preparation time. If you look at our stats, I think we’re right up there. Moreover, we joined the league very late. These things show how far we’ve come in such a short period of time—not just on the field, but off the field as well. We’re not making excuses, but you’ve to be realistic. Everyone is progressing really well at the moment. I watched the latest episode of our Day-Off series which features our support staff and it felt so great! Everyone gets along really well. This is my second family.
Q: You talk about your 'second family' here. What are your plans for Christmas?
We’re all going to sit together and have a Christmas dinner. Gaffer is prepared, so it’ll be fantastic! We’ll try and make it as normal as possible inside the bubble. Like I said, we all have our families back home, but we’ll catch up with them tomorrow. I’ll be seeing my kids opening their presents in the evening. Hopefully they’ve been good boys for Santa. (Smiles.) It’ll be different, but we’ll all sit together for a meal and be ready for the game on Boxing Day.
Q: Your message to the fans for Christmas and New Year...
Enjoy your Christmas, stay safe and keep supporting us into the New Year. It’s going to be a good New Year, I’m sure.