Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: Playing the second leg away isn’t a big concern

Bengaluru FC's road to the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 semi-finals has, in large parts, been piloted by their stellar defence, which conceded just 13 goals in 18 matches during the league phase. Critical to these numbers have been the contribution of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who currently leads the Golden Glove standings with 10 clean sheets to his name. The 28-year-old has conceded just 11 goals in 17 matches and will be pivotal to Bengaluru's charge to retain the title, starting with the two-legged semi-final fixtures against ATK FC, the first of which will be played on Sunday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

It will be the Blues’ third successive appearance in the knockout stages in as many seasons, but there’s a crucial detail to consider. Unlike the previous two seasons, in which Bengaluru had the luxury of playing the second leg at home, this time, the Blues will be on the road for the tie and will be playing the first leg at home. Gurpreet, who was a big part in Bengaluru’s charge till the final in the 2017-18 season and the title triumph in 2018-19, however, reckons it won’t make a big difference if the team performs at its peak capacity.

“The situation is different, but I just believe that if we go with our 100% it won’t make a huge difference. I think the team is capable of handling the games both away and at home. We will go in with all guns blazing,” he said at a media interaction prior to Sunday’s first leg tie.

While Bengaluru’s defence have been water-tight this season, the Blues’ attacking line-up has left a lot to be desired, having scored just 22 goals in the league phase – the worst offensive tally among this season’s four semi-finalists. Asked if the team’s overreliance on the defence adds extra pressure on him, the India international opined, “Honestly, I don’t think about that pressure. We just try to do our jobs. Sometimes you are successful and sometimes you are not. This season, we’ve been fortunate for the 10 clean sheets and we’ve worked hard for it. The goals will come too, all we need to do is keep trying.”

Having seen their Asian dream come to a heart-breaking end following an AFC Cup playoff defeat to Maziya at home recently, the upcoming tie presents the Blues with an opportunity to put their disappointment behind them. Speaking about the same, Gurpreet said, “Obviously things didn’t work out for us at the AFC match. We were disappointment but the best thing to do is to focus on the challenge ahead and try to salvage something out of the remaining season.”

As an experienced campaigner and one of the role models in the dressing room, Gurpreet’s role in keeping the pressure off younger members of the squad will be very important at this crucial juncture of the season. Illustrating how he goes about performing these duties, he revealed, “I think the message is to keep things the way they are. You don't want to make things too special, because the normal mentality and expecting less from yourself keeps you focused. That’s my message in the dressing room. I try to joke around a bit and keep the mood in the camp rather light because it's easier to motivate the young players that way.”

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