The Islanders will enjoy a break till 24th February for their recovery.

Mumbai City head coach Des Buckingham sounded positive despite his team’s second straight loss heading into the playoffs on Sunday. East Bengal defeated the Islanders 1-0 at the Mumbai Football Arena (MFA), courtesy a 52nd minute strike by Naorem Mahesh Singh. The home side fielded a very new-look side with youngsters like Halen Nongtdu, Hardik Bhatt, Ayush Chhikhara, Mohammed Asif and Gyamur Nikum getting some valuable minutes on the field. Here are the excerpts from Buckingham’s post-match press conference.

Objectives behind the game

With their aspirations to finish the season unbeaten coming crashing down against Bengaluru, Mumbai had little to play for on Sunday. Buckingham resonated with that thought process as he seemed undeterred with the defeat and was instead optimistic with the promise that his young talents demonstrated during the game.

“Tonight we used this as an opportunity to look at a lot of players. I am delighted with the young players who made their debuts,” Des Buckingham mentioned.

He added, “We used this as a chance to test them and see what they could do, and I think they have passed the flying colours in terms of how they’ve adapted and shown what they can do. I was also making sure that we look after our squad and arrive at the semi-finals with everybody available.”

The 37-year-old also explained that the team required their squad players to be in good touch given that he might have to tap upon the plethora of resources in his squad at any point during the playoffs. “We used tonight for a different purpose; we knew we won the league and we’re going to finish at least four points clear. We need to test and try things because we may need them in the semi-finals,” Buckingham said.

Similarities to Durand Cup loss to East Bengal?

Sunday’s defeat refreshed memories of a loss that Mumbai City suffered against East Bengal back in September when Stephen Constantine’s men outclassed the Islanders 4-3 in a thrilling goal-fest in the Durand Cup. Incidentally, the Red & Golds along with Bengaluru FC have been the only two sides who have managed to get the better of Mumbai City this season – both in the Durand Cup as well as in the Indian Super League (ISL).

Des Buckingham was probed whether the brand of football embraced by the Kolkata-based club presented any unique challenge in front of Mumbai. The head coach was thoroughly dismissive of any such suggestions, instead highlighting the peculiarity of Mumbai lacking their frontline players due to largely alike reasons on both instances.

“I think the two times we played them in very similar circumstances. When we played in the Durand Cup, we left a lot of players because they were on bookings and that could have carried through to the knockout stages. We played (Gursimrat) Gill and Vinit (Rai) at centre-back in that game. The same was tonight, we didn’t want to risk anyone who was on yellow cards and didn’t want to risk anyone with a slight knock,” the tactician said.

Whilst signing off, Buckingham also revealed that the players will get a break from Monday-Friday of this week. They will report back on Saturday as he hoped that they could use the week-long period to recover properly and then prepare for around 10-12 days before their semi-final fixture in Mumbai on March 7.

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