Panaji, Feb 1: Drawing inspiration from their 1-0 victory in the first-leg, SC East Bengal eye all three points against Bengaluru FC in their second-leg 'home' fixture, slated to be played at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Tuesday. Midfielder Matti Steinmann had struck the winner last time around, handing SCEB their second win this season.
This will be the twelfth meeting between the two sides across all competitions. The Red-and-Golds lead the head-to-head record 7-4 with five wins in the Hero I-League and one each in the Hero Federation Cup and the Hero Indian Super League.
Speaking about the contest at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Monday, SCEB Head Coach Robbie Fowler said, 'Bengaluru are going through a bit of indifferent time. We've been in that position before. Their interim manager (Naushad Moosa) is doing a good job. It's going to be a good game. The table is very tight right now and anyone can beat anyone else on a given day.'
SCEB are currently placed tenth on the league table with thirteen points from fourteen matches (two wins, seven draws and five losses).
They played out a 1-1 stalemate against FC Goa in their previous match with captain Danny Fox netting the equaliser and his maiden Hero ISL goal in the 65th minute. Nigerian forward Bright Enobakhare was adjudged the Hero of the Match for creating three chances.
First things first, credit must be given to Fowler and his team for staging a turnaround after smarting from four defeats in their first five matches. The Red-and-Golds have lost only one of their last nine matches, winning two and drawing six. They also went unbeaten for seven matches during this period.
A big takeaway for SCEB from their last two matches has been their second-half dominance, which testifies to the team's unwavering zeal for fightbacks. For instance, they completely outplayed Mumbai City FC in the second-half a couples of matches back and emulated a similar display against FCG in their last outing.
Despite creating chances aplenty and taking control of the midfield, conversion in the final third remains SCEB's Achilles Heel, for they have managed to score just twelve goals so far (second-least after Chennaiyin FC's eleven).
Asked if the conversion-rate could've been better, Fowler replied, 'Obviously, yes. We've created a lot of chances, but with results, people will point at us and say that we need a proper centre-forward. Players never go into matches wanting to miss goals. There are lots of positives that we can take from our results. I'm happy with the players we've got. We'll continue to create chances.'
SCEB's defense has evinced a steady improvement, having conceded five goals in their last seven matches compared to thirteen goals in the first seven. The likes of Fox, Scott Neville and Narayan Das have come into their own as the tournament has worn on, while Debjit Majumder continues to top the leaderboard for most saves made this season with 49 saves in 14 appearances to his name. He made five saves to win the Hero of the Match award against BFC in the reverse fixture.
BFC, meanwhile, have blown hot and cold this season. They dropped two points against Hyderabad FC in their previous match, drawing it 2-2, despite taking a two-goal lead.
They are currently on an eight-match winless run and occupy the seventh spot on the table with fifteen points from fourteen matches (three wins, six draws and five losses).
Besides, the Blues have managed to keep just two clean sheets having conceded nineteen goals so far. Their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has made 36 saves this till now (seventh-highest).
Captain Sunil Chhetri is BFC's top-scorer this season with five goals in fourteen appearances, while Brazilian midfielder Cleiton Silva has made the maximum goals contributions (four goals + three assists) for them.
BFC are missing the services of midfielder Dimas Delgado who returned to Spain last month. Rahul Bheke, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Suresh Wangjam, Kristian Opseth and Udanta Singh are the other opposition players to watch out for.
Fowler wants his team to take one match at a time and not look too far ahead. 'The target as of now is to win the next match. Of course, you have ideas and plans for the future. We'll keep pushing for a playoff spot until it becomes mathematically impossible,' the Liverpool legend opined.