The last time the two heavyweights of Indian football met on the football pitch, ATK Mohun Bagan got the better of SC East Bengal 2-0, with Roy Krishna and Manvir Singh scoring the goals, in the Indian Super League. That was the first-ever Kolkata derby in the ISL and Friday, they meet again at the Fatorda Stadium - exactly 100 years after their first meeting.
The Mariners have enjoyed a fine debut campaign in the ISL and are currently top of the points table and have already secured a spot in the play-offs. ATKMB will head into the clash against SC East Bengal on the back of a four-match winning run, while the 'Red and Gold' brigade are out of the top-4 reckoning but will be playing for pride against their biggest rivals with bragging rights on the line.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s head coach Antonio Lopez Habas is under no illusions as far as the challenge that awaits his side is concerned.
"It is a different match now and the situation is different. The targets are different for both teams, but our idea remains the same, there’s no change in that, we have to get the three points. We have the confidence and possibility to win the game, but SC East Bengal are also a good team," Habas said at the pre-match press conference.
The Spaniard feels both sides’ form and position will count for little when they collide in the Kolkata derby – the biggest game in Indian football.
"The derby is a different game. The attitude is at the highest level and it is different from other matches because you have to solve a situation in a different manner. It is a dangerous match for us," Habas added.
As for SC East Bengal, assistant coach Tony Grant insisted that a lot has changed since the first clash on November 27.
"The first leg was tough on us because we had only been together for a short period. We probably had eight training sessions maximum, we had just two weeks of preparation. We never had any games and to face your local rivals was a little bit unfair on us. For such a big game, we hardly could prepare and they had a set team over the years so it was quite tough,” Grant said at the pre-match press conference.
"But it’s a process and as it's gone on, we started to slowly improve and you can see that the players are enjoying the games. They are looking forward to the games. It was down to us, staff to keep working hard, keep pushing the players and making them believe and to help them by bringing in some of the new players. So, we’ve got natural progression," he added.
Grant then went on to touch on the magnitude of Friday’s fixture. “This derby has got a lot of history and memory. There will be good memories for the old grand dads. This is a huge game and we know how much a derby means to people. So as I’ve said before, the first derby that we had this season was a bit unfair but now it’s a bit more of an even playing field, hopefully we can do our fans proud,“ he said.
ATK Mohun Bagan's defender Sandesh Jhingan feels both SCEB and ATKMB have improved from the last time we played each other.
"The first time we played them, you know, Anthony [Pilkington], [Jacques] Maghoma, Danny [Daniel Fox] at the back, they have good players in the squad. When I played them first, I didn’t expect them to be at their current position with due respect. I felt they were a very good side with top players. Bright [Enobakhare] as well has shown that he’s a good player and has scored some really good goals. They are a good side as are we. So, it’s going to be a good contest and in football, on a given day if you don’t perform to your best [ability], anyone can beat you," Jhingan told reporters.
SC East Bengal captain Danny Fox though, ahead of the match, is not focusing on the leading goalscorer this season, Roy Krishna, with the likes of Manvir Singh and Marcelinho Pereira adding to the threat.
"You want to play against the best players in the league, and Roy is certainly one of them. ATK are at the top of the table for a reason. We need to be defensively organised like we were against Jamshedpur (second-leg) and Hyderabad for the most part. We were disappointed not to get all three points against Hyderabad as they scored at the last moment," Fox told reporters ahead of the clash.