Mumbai City are gearing up for their next challenge presented by NorthEast United in an all-ISL clash as both sides gear up for their second game of the Super Cup group stage. The Islanders will take on the Highlanders at the Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri, Kerala on April 15 with the game kicking off at 8:30 PM.
Mumbai City came into the Super Cup after a near flawless ISL campaign, winning the League Winners’ Shield and narrowly bowing out in the semifinals. The Islanders came into the 2023 edition of the cup competition with an all-Indian squad and squared off against I League side Churchill Brothers in the opening game of Group D. The Goan side went a goal up early on in the game but the Islanders’ fighting spirit came through as Des Buckingham’s side came back to win 2-1 courtesy of a thumping header from Mehtab Singh in the first half and an injury time penalty from Lallianzuala Chhangte.
After the hard-fought win against Churchill Brothers, the Islanders’ head coach Des Buckingham was pleased with what he saw. “I thought that we started off very well and we created numerous chances - I thought we had a penalty that wasn't given in the first half. You have to get off to a good start, especially in tournament football. We played with a very young, all-Indian team. To not only get the win, but also the manner in which we did it, is very pleasing. We stuck true to how we like to play and it took until the last minute to get the winner, but that's what this group is all about.”
Mumbai City, who have taken an all-Indian squad to the Super Cup, are using the tournament to further the development of the domestic talent at the club. Speaking on how the relatively young squad approached the game against Churchill Brothers, Buckingham added, “New players were coming into the starting line up, new relationships were being formed and it took a little bit of time for those players to get on the same wavelength and that that's always the case. But once they did, we created many chances, certainly in the first half. On any given day, we would have scored three or four more. So, I was very happy with how the team played.”
The Highlanders, who had a contrasting league campaign and finished bottom of the table in the ISL, arrived into the Super Cup under new leadership. Vincenzo Annesse, who was relieved from his role at NorthEast United at the end of the ISL campaign, was replaced by assistant coach Floyd Pinto in the hot seat. They began their Super Cup campaign on the wrong side of a high scoring tie against Chennaiyin FC, losing out 4-2.
Having beaten the Highlanders twice during the ISL regular season, Des Buckingham spoke on the preparations his side has put in to face NorthEast United in the Super Cup. “The league season is finished. There's been some changes at NorthEast United. We've obviously made some changes in our squad in terms of the way that we've approached this tournament, wanting to give real developmental opportunities to Indian players and get minutes into them. We'll do everything to position ourselves as well as we can to put in our best performance and hopefully we come away with the desired result from the game.”
The 38-year-old Englishman was in the stands during the Highlanders’ first game of the Super Cup against Chennaiyin and he said, “They are approaching the game slightly differently than what they did in the league. They will do it because they have a new coach. We obviously see that, but you can't draw too much off of that because it's one game. After four or five games, I think, you start to see trends of what they might be trying to do. So we won't get too caught up in what we think they might do. We'll just prepare ourselves as well as we can to make sure that we can do what we need to do.”
Buckingham concluded by talking about what he feels has helped him develop the players part of the Islanders’ squad over the last 18 months. He said, “They're very well supported here at Mumbai City. The environment the club has created for them to work in is a very positive one. We give them a lot of encouragement to try and play a certain way. Yes, we went down by one goal in the last game through one mistake but the pleasing thing was we know that if we stick true to what we do, whether it takes us 30 minutes to get the equaliser or the 92nd minute to find the winner, the performance will often deliver a result for us and all the players know that.”