Updated: Jan 15
Panaji, Jan 14: Having completed their first leg of matches in the Hero Indian Super League, SC East Bengal are now set to embark on their second leg of fixtures, beginning with their 'home' clash against Kerala Blasters FC at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Friday.
The previous encounter between these two sides ended 1-1 at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim on 20 December last year. SCEB enjoyed a slender 1-0 lead till the stoppage time, after Bakary Kone scored an own goal in the 13th minute, but Jeakson Singh's last-gasp equaliser helped KBFC eke out a draw.
Speaking about the contest at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Friday, SCEB Head Coach Robbie Fowler said, 'Regardless of the opposition, we go into every game believing that we can get the right result. That is our ethos and mentality. No game is easy, but you've got to work hard and try to get a victory. That's what we've been doing.'
The Red-and-Golds are currently on a five-match unbeaten streak, having secured two victories in their last three matches, and stand ninth on the league table with ten points in as many games (two wins, four draws and four losses).
SCEB have been playing well since the start of the season, but goals were eluding them till their fourth game. However, their confidence has been bolstered significantly by their recent signings, namely Bright Enobakhare, Ankit Mukherjee and Raju Gaikwad.
Fowler accentuated that the long-term project for the club envisioned by the management has already started yielding dividends. 'We know what we have to do and I think that we've been able to implement it a lot quicker than we envisaged. There are plenty of tough games coming up and there's a lot to play for. We need to continue the good work,' he said.
In their last match against Bengaluru FC at the Fatorda Stadium last Saturday, a collective team effort powered SCEB to a 1-0 win – their second in the tournament. German midfielder Matti Steinmann scored the only goal of the night in the 20th minute, while goalkeeper Debjit Majumder made five saves to win the Hero of the Match award and take his save tally to 33, the highest so far this season.
SCEB's defense is also getting better by the day. The team hasn't lost a single match since captain Danny Fox's return from an injury layoff, while Scott Neville, Narayan Das, Ankit, and Raju have proved to be reliable.
Moreover, Ankit and Das operated well on the right and left flanks respectively to create a couple of brilliant chances before Steinmann broke the deadlock against Bengaluru FC.
Attacking midfielder Jacques Maghoma's work-rate on the pitch has also been instrumental in SCEB's resurgence. The 33-year old recorded an 81% pass accuracy, 61 touches, 2 tackles, and 2 clearances, besides registering a 100% pass accuracy in the opposition half (17) against Bengaluru FC. In fact, the DR Congo international has the best pass accuracy (85%) this season for a player to have completed a minimum of 150 passes in the opposition half.
On the attacking front, Enobakhare's inclusion has added more firepower to SCEB's roster. The 22-year old Nigerian forward has already become the cynosure of all eyes having netted two goals in his three appearances, with his 80th-minute strike against FC Goa fetching him the Fans' Goal of the Week award for Round 10 of Hero ISL-7.
Asked if the team would have been better placed had Enobakhare been available from the start of the season, the Liverpool legend replied, 'When you're doing well as a team and somebody makes an immediate impact by scoring great goals after coming in, it does make a difference. He is a great lad and enjoys his game. Great players make good players around them better.'
Kerala Blasters FC, on the other hand, currently stand one spot behind SCEB on the table, with nine points from ten matches (two wins, three draws, and five losses).
The Yellow Army were winless when they squared off against SCEB in the first leg, but have managed to bag two wins in the meantime. They came back from behind to snatch a 3-2 victory against Jamshedpur FC in their last match at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, courtesy goals from Jordan Murray (2) and Costa Nhamoinesu.
KBFC full-back Lalruatthara was given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card against JFC, and will miss Friday's game.
Kibu Vicuna's men have conceded five penalties so far, but they pose a threat on the counter with speedy players like Rahul KP, Jordan Murray and Sahal Abdul Samad in their ranks. Jessel Carneiro, Albino Gomes, Vicente Gomez, Facundo Pereyra and Gary Hooper are the other opposition players to look out for.