Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera expressed pride in his players as they secured a comfortable 3-1 win over Punjab FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.

The Kalinga Warriors had been the dominating side for the majority of the match, with Diego Mauricio scoring the opener in the 34th minute, heading home a Jerry Lalrinzuala cross. It didn’t take long for Punjab FC to react as Madih Talal equalized for the Shers with a classy finish from outside the box.

As the match entered the second half with both teams on level terms, Isak Vanlalruatfela bagged his third goal of the season to restore Odisha FC's lead in the 61st minute. In the 68th minute of the match, Mauricio found the back of the net again, this time from the spot, completing his brace and ensuring Odisha FC concluded the match with a 3-1 win.

With this victory, Lobera’s men climbed to second place on the league table with 39 points from their 20 games, five points behind league leaders Mumbai City FC.  They have also managed to end the ISL 2023-24 season undefeated at home, with their remaining two matches set to be away games.

The head coach is pleased with how his players managed to recover within such a short span of time, especially after recently taking the pitch against Bengaluru FC on March 30.

I am very happy and I am very proud of my players because it's so difficult to recover well, after playing the previous game three days ago,” stated Lobera at the post-match press conference.

Analyzing the match, he said, “I think the big problem for us in the first half was that we rushed. We wanted to arrive very quickly at the opponent's goal. And we were playing against a team that, for me, is the best team in counter-attack actions.”

I am very happy because it's three very important points for us,” he added.

Odisha FC becomes only the third team in the history of ISL to finish a season unbeaten at home, following in the footsteps of Bengaluru FC, who achieved the feat in the ISL 2018-19 season, and Delhi Dynamos, who remained unbeaten at home in ISL 2016.

The Spanish tactician is delighted with how the medical team and the players have all managed to keep up with the hectic calendar this season, spearheading the Kalinga Warriors into maintaining an unbeaten record at home in the ongoing league season.

“We are winning points because at the end of this crazy season with this crazy calendar, not speaking about only ISL as we were playing three competitions. They (the players and the staff) are doing an amazing job. The players are making an amazing effort and we need to be proud. We need to be proud of our team, our family, medical staff, fitness coach, and everyone who is involved with the team. Because it's not easy to achieve these numbers at home,” he said.

The 47-year-old further credits the fans for pushing them to perform better and helping them achieve this remarkable feat.

He stated, “I want to thank the fans because, as always, they are very loyal supporters. Always with us, always behind us in good moments as well as in difficult moments. And if we achieved this, it is because of them for sure.”

Odisha FC will next play on April 8, travelling to face Mumbai City FC. In their encounter at the Mumbai Football Arena, the Kalinga Warriors will be missing their pivotal midfielder Ahmed Jahouh due to suspension. 

On being asked how the coach intends to cope with his absence, Lobera replied, “It's not about the players. It's about the team. And we are ready for the challenge. We want to win the next game because we are going to fight till the end. This team always shows everyone that we are fighting till the end, in all the competitions, in all the games. And let's see what happens because ISL is an amazing competition because up until the end, everything is possible.”

“I am sure if we are able to win the remaining two games, we can get something important. I am sure, one hundred per cent,” he signed off.