The Men of Steel begin their ISL 2021-22 campaign against SC East Bengal on November 21.

Jamshedpur FC finished three places and 10 points above SC East Bengal last season. But it is the results against them that has Owen Coyle and Peter Hartley looking forward to face them again this season. The Men of Steel failed to register a win over the Red and Gold Brigade in the previous season.

Hartley, a former Sunderland youth player, feels his side owes SC East Bengal one. The Jamshedpur FC captain accompanied head coach Owen Coyle on Saturday ahead of his side’s season opener against SC East Bengal.

“We have got more than capable quality in the team to go and beat them,” asserted the 33-year-old. “But they’ve also got some good players and some very good strikers, good centre-halves. So I believe we have got to nullify that threat and bring our strengths into play. Hopefully, if we can get the boys firing upfront like they have been in pre-season, then I don’t see it (winning) being a problem,” claimed Hartley.

For Owen Coyle, however, last season’s results have no bearings on this season’s performance. “Regardless of what happened last season or who you played against will have no bearings on the games you play this season,” Coyle quipped.

On SC East Bengal’s recruitment

“It’s a new competition (season) and a lot of teams have changed personnel. So you have to be ready for that challenge and the team that you play against.”

This statement does not indicate Owen Coyle is taking SC East Bengal lightly. “We are aware of the threat SC East Bengal have but we will have to perform and play our part,” he observed.

“They have done really well with the foreign recruitment. But then again they have a number of players we already know in terms of domestic – Jackichand (Singh), Amarjit (Singh) and Joyner (Lourenco) were with us last year. They have also signed one of the league’s best goalkeepers (Arindam Bhattacharya) from ATK Mohun Bagan. There’s no doubt that SC East Bengal are a very good team.”

His players have been warned of the threat Manolo Diaz’s side can pose and also ways of tackling it. “We have to move the ball, pass and be offensive when we can, we need to score goals and equally look to be really tight at the back. Getting that balance between attack and defence is crucial,” the tactician explained.

On SC East Bengal team

Owen Coyle revealed he is aware of midfielder Amir Dervisevic was a champion at his former club Maribor. Or that Daniel Chima won multiple domestic titles at Molde and Darren Sideol comes from the Ajax school of football.

“We (Jamshedpur) have to make sure we are at our very best and don’t give them too much respect,” said Coyle. “When we are at our best, we always feel we can win games. SC East Bengal will pose a tough challenge, that’s guaranteed,” he continued.

Pre-season preparation

After a mid-table finish last season, Jamshedpur FC began their pre-season early in October and have already played five friendlies, losing one. Their friendly match against Mumbai City FC was abandoned due to incessant rain.

“We have had a very tough and enjoyable pre-season. We had some competitive games against Bengaluru and Kerala. I think the unity and togetherness in the team is fantastic,” Hartley asserted.

“The boys from last season have come out leaps and bounds and massively improved and have come out from the shadows. We have a very good team and are very excited for the game against SC East Bengal,” he added.

Chances of breaking playoffs jinx

Jamshedpur FC have never qualified for the playoffs during their four-year-long history at the ISL. They finished sixth last season, four points shy of the final playoffs berth. Both Coyle and Hartley are hopeful this will be their year.

“We are the same as every team. We want to be in those positions and want to be challenging to be up there at the top end (playoffs). Everybody has the same aspiration. That’s why it’s such a competitive league,” feels Coyle.

“Last year, we came very close and had one or two things gone our way we would have found ourselves in those positions,” he added.

“The playoffs is a target. But with the quality in the squad, we are more than capable of beating any team. My goal is to win every game,” Hartley proclaimed.

Farukh Choudhary’s injury update

After rejoining Jamshedpur from Mumbai City in January, Faruk was touted for a memorable season with the Men of Steel. But a knee injury during the SAFF Championship cut short his season. The 25-year-old underwent surgery earlier in November and is likely to miss out on the entire season.

“If Farukh is able to come back this season, I will be very surprised,” said Coyle. “I don’t expect to have him available for this ISL season. It was a really serious injury. He’s a great kid. Was really looking forward to this season. Sadly we can’t enjoy his development this time.

“I brought him to the club in January because of the belief and trust I have in him knowing that he’s going to get better and improve. That said, now it provides an opportunity for a young Boris and young Komal,” the Jamshedpur boss added.

Owen Coyle also informed Boris Singh has a slight niggle but is able to train. “He missed the last couple of pre-season games but he’s able to train now. Ideally, he would like to have some more training under his belt,” he revealed.

Picking four foreigners

In accordance with the AFC playing regulations, the ISL have allowed only four foreigners in the playing XI this season. “As a head coach that’s a real dilemma,” feels Owen Coyle.

“I do believe that the six foreign players we have got are all fantastic qualities, fantastic attributes. They’ve shown themselves really well in pre-season. Of course, It’s a good problem to have,” he continued.

In hindsight, it’s also an opportunity for the Indian players to make hay of the opportunity and shine. “It gives an opportunity to a lot of Indian players. Of course, there will be challenges in picking four foreigners from the six to take the field at any given time,” he remarked.

“But our strength is always going to be as a group. So that’s what we need to bring in. We need to remember we are a team and it’s a team that wins, not individuals.”

Aspirations for this season

Reaching the playoffs for the first time and breaking the four-year barren run remains a target for Owen Coyle. But beyond that, it is to win every game.

“I have been delighted with the application and effort of the lads. (in pre-season). We know how hard they work and how honest they are with the performances. We want to bring quality with all that and if we do that, it will always give us the chance of winning games. That’s what we set out to do. Win every game. We want to win every game. We need to play in a matter befitting of our fans,” Coyle conluded.

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