The tactician seemed vary of the opposition but hopes for an improvement from his side.

After a difficult start to their season, where they are yet to clinch their first victory, Odisha FC will face one of their toughest opponents in the Indian Super League in ATK Mohun Bagan on Thursday. Ahead of the game, Odisha FC head coach Stuart Baxter spoke in the pre-match press conference, talking about the game, his team and more.

Speaking on whether the comeback will give Odisha the impetus or momentum for the next match, Stuart Baxter said, “It will give us a little bit more belief but we are gonna keep our feet on the ground and make sure we keep on working.” 

ATKMB is a very strong side that looks balanced and stable. Baxter was asked how difficult it will be to face them, to which he responded by saying that, “It’s difficult because yes they are balanced and yes they’ve been together for a while and their way of play is difficult to play against.”

“They have good players who can hurt you if you push on and leave space behind and if you don’t do that, then they are very solid defensively. So that’s the conundrum you’re gonna face when you play against ATK,” he further added.

Arshdeep Singh was missing between the goal and Kamaljit Singh stepped in for him against Jamshedpur. Explaining his decision behind that change, Baxter informed that, “There was an injury with Arshdeep, and therefore Kamaljit stepped in. I think he did well and we are happy we can get that sort of a competition between our goalkeepers.”

The 67-year-old was asked to spare a thought on young players like Hendry Antonay, Premjit Singh and Moiranghtem Thoiba who are newcomers in the ISL. He spoke in this regard by saying, “You can’t expect young players to walk in an environment they are not used to with a new coach and immediately be a finished article. During the time they are gaining experience, they can learn and still give a performance which will strengthen their confidence and also help the team.”

Odisha FC fought back to hold 10-man Jamshedpur FC to a draw

Former South Africa national team coach, Baxter, also talked about the key moments from the game against JFC. He said that, “In the first-half, even though we were 2-0 down, we were still playing a lot better than we did against Hyderabad. I was relatively pleased with the way we approached the game. We were more compact, we were breaking out and playing through the lines much better.”

“We gave away two sloppy goals which put us on the backfoot. Luckily in the second half, the players approached the game in the correct way and kept their confidence. To get to 2-1 with 15 minutes to play roughly, I think everyone was hunting for that second goal and if the game was five minutes longer, we would have got the third goal,” the tactician further added. 

Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Vinit Rai have been absent from the first two games. Giving an update on their availability, Baxter said, “They should be part of the squad, whether they can take part in the game we will take a decision. He (Vinit) has had an injury that he picked up against Mumbai in the friendly and it’s been a quite bad one for him. He is fit but is he match fit, that decision we have to make.”

Baxter also expressed his opinion on new recruit George D’Souza and said that, “This is all very new to him. George does have potential and he needs to add to his armoury a little bit more in terms of calmness and also in terms of positional play. I expect George to certainly take part in the games to come.”

ATKMB’s Roy Krishna and David Williams are a threat for any defence in the league. Speaking in regards to having any plans to stop them, Baxter said, “Not really. I think you respect them because they are good players and they are experienced players.”

“But we have to make sure that whilst we are throwing players forward, we are aware of the fact that on transition, if they can get into the game quickly when we are spread out then they can be effective. More than that, it’s gonna be up to the players on the day to make sure to take away the spaces they want and we defend well one vs one,” the gaffer explained.

Diego Mauricio scored the two vital goals after being subbed on in the second half against Jamshedpur, that helped Odisha come away with a point. When asked whether he will start him against ATKMB, Baxter had this to say, “All I’ll say is Diego did make a massive impact when he came on, I think Manu plays very well with the other players, so, in my mind I’ve gotta decide whether I start with Diego who makes an impact or Manu who plays well with other players. That’s the call I’ve gotta make.”

Stuart Baxter has been vocal about the lack of time he has had to work with the team. So, when asked about the gradual improvement the squad has shown as a unit, he praised the boys by saying that, “We had very little game time to put ideas into practice. So we are literally using the league games as a way of improving. That’s massively difficult. I think the Indian boys have approached that in a very very good way.”

“We are a work in progress and I think they’re approaching in the best way possible. We have to get results at the same time because if you don’t, it steals belief, confidence and the process takes a lot longer. Hopefully we can pick up points along the way,” Stuart Baxter concluded. 

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