Two teams with contrasting fortunes and differing agendas will be locking horns when East Bengal hosts Hyderabad FC in a match-week 16 fixture of ISL-9 at the Salt Lake Stadium on Friday.
For East Bengal, which is struggling at the ninth position in the 11-team table with 12 points from 13 matches, this will be a fight to secure a place in the play-offs (top-six).
Hyderabad, with 32 points from 14 matches, will be gunning for the League Shield by regaining its place at the top of the standings. A win is necessary for Hyderabad if it wishes to reduce the seven-points gap with the current leader Mumbai City FC.
The recent loss against Jamshedpur FC would have hurt East Bengal as it continued to remain eight points adrift of the sixth-placed team, currently FC Goa, in the league standings. East Bengal has the advantage of playing one match less than other teams, but that will soon become insignificant if it fails to regain the winning form.
Interestingly, East Bengal enjoys the sixth-best away record in the league but has not been able to replicate the similar form at home.
With only one win at home so far, East Bengal will have to do something extraordinary to get the better of Hyderabad in its upcoming tie. A lot will depend on how Brazilian striker Cleiton Silva, who scored six goals in the last six matches to be on top of this season’s goal-scoring chart with nine goals, converts the scoring opportunities to realise East Bengal’s hopes.
“We have seven games left. Many of our games have been close encounters. We must continue to play and fight. At the start of the season, I said that this is a rebuilding project. You can’t expect unbeaten streaks during such a project,” said East Bengal coach Stephen Constantine. “These are not excuses. These are facts. You cannot expect a team that has won one or two games in the last two seasons to win 15 games in the third season without making any changes,” he added.
Hyderabad dropped points in the 1-1 draw against Chennaiyin FC last week. The defending champion will have to be wary about another faltering step that would move it further from the League Shield race.
Despite seeing its winning streak end in its last outing, Hyderabad is now unbeaten in six successive games. Hyderabad will hope to see more goals from its key striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, who is firing on all cylinders and has scored four goals in the last two games.
“We are not playing our best football, but despite that, the team is difficult to beat. We have been organised so far. It will be a tough game because they have good players, including the league’s top-scorer Cleiton Silva,” said Hyderabad head coach Manolo Marquez. “Now we enter the decisive phase. We know that we will be in the playoffs. To try and win the Shield, we will have to be ambitious,” he added.