SC East Bengal would look to extend their six-match unbeaten run with a win when they take on Chennaiyin FC in their twelfth Indian Super League fixture and sixth ‘away’ contest at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim on Monday.
The last encounter between the two sides ended 2-2 at the Tilak Maidan on Boxing Day last year. Matti Steinmann netted a brace in that match to cancel out Chennaiyin FC’s lead twice.
The Red-and-Golds managed to earn a point, courtesy Scott Neville’s last-gasp equaliser, in their 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters at the Tilak Maidan a couple of days back. They currently stand ninth on the league table with eleven points from as many games (two wins, five draws, four losses).
Despite dominating possession throughout and being neck and neck with Kerala Blasters in terms of creating chances in the first-half, SC East Bengal took their foot off the pedal for a brief period after the hour-mark, which allowed the opposition to break the deadlock via Jordan Murray’s goal.
However, their never-say-die attitude, manifest in their late goal, is expected to keep them in good stead for their remaining fixtures this season.
Speaking about his side’s recent form at the virtual pre-match Press conference on Sunday, SC East Bengal Head Coach Robbie Fowler said, “We are on a six-match unbeaten run and there are a lot of points to play for. It’s not mathematically impossible to qualify for the playoffs because if you look at the points table, you’ll see that only five points separate us and the fourth-placed team at the moment.”
One of SC East Bengal’s biggest positives of late has been Neville’s steady improvement, which has been a key factor in their resurgence. The Australian defender was arguably his team’s best performer in the last game. Besides scoring a goal, he recorded 86 touches, an 80% pass accuracy, 2 tackles, 2 clearances, 3 successful interceptions and 2 blocks.
SC East Bengal have had to play four games in twelve days this month. Fowler feels that it’s not an ideal situation to be in, but his team will take it because of the ‘momentum’ factor. “As regards the fixture congestion, I think we’ve been unfortunate. We’ve played a lot more games in succession as compared to other teams. Having said that, we are a momentum team. We will try to embrace the situation and play to win points in every match, as we always do.”
SC East Bengal defender Raju Gaikwad suffered a last-minute injury prior to the Kerala Blasters game, which made way for Rana Gharami in the starting XI. On being asked about Gaikwad’s injury status, the Liverpool legend replied, “I am not here to tell who is playing and who’s not because I don’t want to make the opposition manager’s job easy. He (Raju) was unfortunate to miss the last game due to an injury at the very last minute. We’ve got a squad of players and we’ll try to use them.”
Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, currently occupy the fifth spot with fourteen points from eleven games (three wins, five draws, three losses).
They won their last match 2-1 against Odisha FC in Bambolim, thanks to a brace from forward Esmaël Gonçalves.
The Marina Machans have been beset by Rafael Crivellaro’s ankle injury, which has ruled him out for the remainder of the tournament. At the same time, their Indian contingent comprising the likes of goalkeeper Vishal Kaith, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Rahim Ali and Deepak Tangri has been quite impressive and garnered a lot of praise. Chhangte and Ali scored for Chennaiyin FC in their last meeting with the Red-and-Golds. One should also look out for their two defensive mainstays – Enes Sipovic and Eli Sabia.
How does the SC East Bengal Head Coach view the absence of Crivellaro? “He’s an excellent player, but his injury also opens the door for new players who can showcase their talent. Regardless of who plays, we’ll treat the team as we treat our opposition in every game,” the 45-year old said before signing off.