Odisha FC head coach Stuart Baxter asserted that he saw signs of improvement in his team with each passing passing ahead of the next Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 match against NorthEast United FC, which will be played at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, Goa on Tuesday. Baxter also praised his players for their work rate and the hard work they were doing in training, hoping that it will show on the pitch come their next game.
“I thought the players, for a large part of the game, did very well, they showed clear signs of improvement and now we have to start turning a few of the sad stories into happy endings because at the end of the day, it’s the lack of focus and drift in concentration that results in our performance going down. This squad has got a lot of work to do and they are working really hard and they are making improvement. There’s a lot of room for improvement but the good news is if the referring decisions go our way, which I believe they should have gone, then even the performance that we gave could have resulted in three points,” the 67-year-old explained in the pre-match press conference on Monday.
“In every game that we have played, we have shown signs of improvement. In certain games, those signs have been far too few but I think in every game, there has been a period where we have been very competitive. I think the last game was a step in the right direction for a long period of the game. I think we were in quite a good control of the game. I hope that we can continue that improvement both in terms of better play and for longer periods,” he further added.
Odisha are currently at the bottom of the ISL points table and have registered losses in their last four games, having played a total of six games. They reel at the foot of the table with just a point, which they earned against Jamshedpur FC in a come-from-behind victory. However, Baxter stated that the environment in the dressing room was still “fantastic”.
“The players know that the difference between what I called a horrendous start and a good start is very little. In this league, there have been yellow cards, red cards, and penalties given; inconsistency if I can say that. All the teams are fluctuating. There have been two, possibly three, they have been really consistent from start to now. So, those fluctuations, if you get away with it or you are punished. I have seen defenders making very bad mistakes and their team gets punished and they lose the game. A game in which otherwise they have been very strong in.
“We have been the same a little bit. We have been the architect of our own downfall a couple of times, we have been at the wrong end of a couple of bad calls and a couple of times, just momentary lapses of concentration meant that the results have gone against us. We are working on that and as long as the lads are working on it with the fantastic attitude that they are showing then that’s what we can demand from them. I certainly think that there’s more to come from the team.”
Goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh has been one of the brightest performers for Odisha in the last two games despite the team’s losses. Even after the experienced Kamaljit Singh being in the squad, Arshdeep has started ahead of him based on his good show.
Explaining more on the goalkeeping department, Baxter said, “Gerry (Peyton), obviously, has got a wealth of experience in the goalkeeping coaching department and his discussion with (Rogerio) Ramos has been the content of the goalkeeping work. I think Arsh (Arshdeep Singh) has done really well. Kamal (Kamaljit) got himself injured and got Arsh back in the team. Arsh is doing well and we hope Kamal also takes the right way. All the goalkeepers including Ravi (Kumar) and Ankit (Bhuyan) they push each other and we need that.”
The former South Africa and Finland national side coach said that the results of different games are the responsibilities of the entire team. “Whatever responsibilities we take in winning, losing or drawing, we take as a team. I can’t deflect all the attention on the players, I will rather want people to look at me. I will look at myself and the staff’s job and we will do the best that we can,” he mentioned.
The peculiar case of Marcelinho is one that has left everyone wondering. Marcelinho has been one of the star performers in the league for the past three seasons but despite that, he has mostly been warming the bench after signing for Odisha ahead of the current season. Marcelinho is the second highest assist-maker in the history of the league but Baxter said he was yet to find his best role in the team.
“Marcelinho was injured and his performances in training have not yet allowed me to say that he has fully recovered, he is fully fit and he can go out for 100 per cent for 90 minutes. So until then, we got to find the best role for him. His performances in games and his performances in training will lead the way for that.”
Defender Gaurav Bora was part of the press conference along with his coach and stated that this was surely not the start the team wanted. “But as coach said we are a progressing team and we are progressing game by game. Some games it’s 70 per cent and in some games, it’s 50 per cent. We are trying to do our best and doing our best in the training field. Hopefully, it goes on our way in the next games.”
He hailed the experienced coaching team and senior players for their constant support since they got together for the league.
“It’s been amazing. They bring in a lot of experience from different places. We have been very lucky to have such great coaches. We are trying to do our best whatever they want us to do and we are trying to deliver on the pitch.
“It’s (playing in the midfield) not so difficult to be honest because the coach has already explained what he needs from me. Playing alongside Vinit and Cole has been great because they are great players. They know what to do in their positions and they have been guiding me throughout very well.
“As we are one of the youngest sides in the ISL, it’s very easy for all the players to get demotivated but they (foreign players) have done a very great job to keep us motivated even the coaches and all the staff. We are not going down, we are not putting our heads down. We are just looking forward to the next game,” the 22-year-old concluded.