A lot will be at stake on Friday when East Bengal FC hosts Hyderabad FC in their Hero Indian Super League (ISL) match at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata. For the Torch Bearers, a playoffs place is getting farther as they find themselves eight points behind sixth placed FC Goa with a game in hand. On a contrasting end, Hyderabad FC, who are one of the main challengers for the League Shield, would like to decrease the four points gap to league leaders Mumbai City FC.

The gap between East Bengal FC and the final playoff spot would have, however, been smaller, had the Torch Bearers held onto their lead last week, something that East Bengal FC have been guilty of across the season. In their previous encounter against Jamshedpur FC, the hosts took the lead before the Red Miners struck twice and nabbed their first away win of the season.

Despite having the sixth-best away record in the league, East Bengal FC have not been able to replicate a similar record at home. Last week’s loss was their fifth home defeat of the season.

Cleiton Silva has scored six goals in the last six matches and sits at the top of this season’s goalscoring chart with nine goals in 13 games. The Brazilian will be tasked to guide his side to their first ever victory over Hyderabad FC in the Hero ISL to keep their race for a playoff spot alive.

“We have seven games left. Many of our games have been close encounters. We must continue to play and fight. At the start of the season, I said that this is a rebuilding project. You can’t expect unbeaten streaks during such a project,” said Constantine. “These are not excuses. These are facts. You cannot expect a team that has won one or two games in the last two seasons to win 15 games in the third season without making any changes,” he added.

After dropping vital points against Chennaiyin FC last week, Hyderabad FC find themselves four points behind Mumbai City FC with six games to go. Another faltering step for Hyderabad FC would hand the Islanders a massive advantage in the race for the Hero ISL Shield.

Despite seeing their winning streak end on their last outing, Hyderabad FC are now unbeaten in six successive games. During this streak, the defending champions also beat their next opponent 2-0 in the reverse fixture in December.

Bartholomew Ogbeche is firing on all cylinders and has scored four goals in the last two games. Hyderabad FC will be expecting chances coming in from the flanks for Ogbeche as Halicharan Narzary will likely return to the starting XI after missing the last game. (Club statistics)

“We are not playing our best football, but despite that, the team is difficult to beat. We have been organised so far. It will be a tough game because they have good players, including the league’s top-scorer Cleiton Silva,” said head coach Manolo Marquez. “Now we enter the decisive phase. We know that we will be in the playoffs. To try and win the Shield, we will have to be ambitious. Out of the six remaining games, four are against ATK, Kerala, Odisha and Mumbai,” he added.

The two sides have faced each other five times in the Hero ISL. Hyderabad FC have won thrice, while two games have ended in draws. The defending champions have never done the season double over the Torch Bearers.