The East Bengal head coach emphasised the importance of squad depth.

East Bengal will host NorthEast United in an ISL 2022-23 fixture at Kolkata on Wednesday. While both teams are placed in the bottom half of the table, East Bengal are having their best ISL season so far. On the other hand, NorthEast United are going through a nightmarish season in which the side has been able to win only one game and lost 15. Coming into the game on the back of a win against a strong Kerala Blasters side, Stephen Constantine’s army are expected to be the more confident side to get a positive result from the game. However, with some good additions, NorthEast will also have something to say.

A day prior to the game, East Bengal head coach Stephen Constantine attended the pre-match press conference. Edited excerpts from the conference are as follows.

Thoughts on NorthEast United

NorthEast United are the bottom-placed team that has only four points from 17 games. Compared to East Bengal, NorthEast are having a far worse league season. When asked about facing the bottom-placed team, Constantine said that the position of a team on the points table does not determine how a game of football is played on the pitch.

“I think they have improved in recent weeks. They have brought in 2-3 new players. I don’t judge a team by where they are on the table. It is irrelevant. All the games in ISL are difficult games. We have to be completely focused and play the football that we played last week. If we can do so, we will get three points. But if we don’t play like that, if we are not focused and do not do the things that we are supposed to do, we are not going to win. They are not coming here to lose. They will fight as they have done for the last six months. I expect them to fight and we will fight them.”

The head coach further said that a change at the helm and the addition of a few quality players have changed the team’s gameplay to some extent. He mentioned, “They have changed the coach. So, there will be a different look about them. They are a hard-working team. They fight very hard. They do a lot of running and show a lot of determination. We saw that against Jamshedpur, in which I think they were a bit unlucky to lose the game. It will not be an easy game for us. If we think that we will win the game just because we beat Kerala, then we will have problems. We have to be fit on the ground.”

On the absence of VP Suhair and Mobashir Rahman

Stephen Constantine talked about the importance of squad depth in dealing with injuries and suspensions. He stated that the players who will replace Suhair and Mobashir will have to step up to the task and play well to cement their place in the first XI.

“That’s why we have 24 players. We will have injuries and suspensions. Obviously, both players have been playing very well in the last few games. So, we will miss them. Now, it is about the mentality of the next player. These players will get the opportunity to play. They will have to step up. For example, Rakip. He had not played for some time. In the last game, he got an opportunity to play because of the substitution and I think he did well. This is football, it is about getting an opportunity and then utilising it. The players who will replace VP (Suhair) and Moba (Mobashir Rahman) will have to step up.”

Updates on Jake Jervis and Ankit Mukherjee

Constantine provided updates on Jake Jervis’ fitness. He said, “Jake had not played a 90-minute game for the last three months because his earlier league finished in October. This was his first game. We expected him to last for 70 minutes. He gave us a different dimension. I think he will be fine for the game tomorrow.”

On Ankit Mukherjee, the mentor added, “Ankit has been handed a show cause by the club. He needs to reply to this in the next 48 hours, after which the club will make a decision.”

On getting the season’s second clean sheet

The British coach talked about getting the season’s second clean sheet. He also said that the previous game is a thing of the past and the team is now solely focused on the game against NorthEast. He stated, “I hate conceding goals. The three points were the most important thing for us. A clean sheet just adds to the win. But the game is finished. So, I am not thinking about that anymore.”

On the possibility of the side winning two games in a row for the first time in the season

The 61-year-old sounded confident while talking about the possibility of winning two games in a row. He said, “It is a game that we will play at our home where I believe if we can play to our abilities, we will get three points. It would be nice to win two consecutive games and get another clean sheet. However, I am more interested in getting the three points, taking one game at a time.”

On having three strong contenders for the centre-back position

Stephen Constantine reiterated the importance of having a strong bench. He elaborated his thought-process on the same.

“We have 24 players. I want to have at least two players for every position. If anything happens to somebody, someone else will have to come in. I don’t care who plays or where they come from. I only see if a player can do the job. If he can do the job, he has to show me. If he shows me, then he plays.”

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