FC Goa head coach Carlos Pena has backed his team to book a berth in the playoff spots despite their recent varying run of results, as his side prepare to face Hyderabad FC in Matchweek 14 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Goa, on Thursday.

The Gaurs have had mixed results in their last five games — two wins, two losses, and one one draw — which has led them stay put in the fifth position in the league standings with 19 points, level with sixth-placed Odisha FC.

Pena stressed that his team is working and improving as per his standards and that their recent results won’t come in their way of achieving their set targets.

“I think we are on the right track. We have improved minute by minute and the team has been working very well. Now, it’s time to keep our focus in the second part of the league. Only change is that we conceded some easy goals, but I think the team was good in defence, in Jamshedpur (against Jamshedpur FC) as well as Kolkata (against ATK Mohun Bagan), and before this too the defence has been good,” he stated in the official pre-match press conference.

With a loss and a draw against ATK Mohun Bagan and Jamshedpur FC respectively, concerns were raised about FC Goa’s place in the top six. However, the Spaniard remained stern about his team and refuted any assumptions about his team not finishing in the top six.

“After losing in Kolkata, maybe the people think that FC Goa has problems for the top four or the top six. Okay, but imagine if we won in Kolkata, we would have been in the third position. So, it’s just one game that is changing the mentality of the people, of the players, of the team,” he added.

Shedding light on his side’s situation last season, Pena highlighted how the team has massively improved whilst also mentioning that it’s a work in progress and will require significant time to bring back FC Goa’s winning mentality.

“I think it's common in football, it happens when you are building a team, when you are building a project. I used to say that we need to think of where we came from, you know, last season this team finished in the ninth position and it is difficult to build again a winning mentality,” he expressed.

“We have improved a lot of things from the start of the season. I think the team shows a lot of competitiveness, we are very recognisable in the team, everyone knows what FC Goa is capable of. But of course, at this moment, we are conceding goals, we are having mistakes that are costing us some important points,” he added.

While Pena’s men have been regular at scoring goals, having netted 20 goals across 12 games, they haven’t been able to find the right balance as the team has been leaking goals at the back, having let in 16 goals. The 38-year-old underlined the need for staying concentrated throughout the game and cutting out mistakes.

“It's not about consistency, it's about being focused for the whole 90 minutes. And it's important that we pay attention to those mistakes. But this is part of the process. This is part of football, I simply say I see this is not a moment to do a drama. So we are in a way, we are close to the top four, we are in the fight for the playoffs,” he said.

Hyderabad FC - who were triumphant over FC Goa with a 1-0 win in the reverse fixture - are on a 4-game winning streak, and have scored 12 goals in their last four games. Previewing their opponents, Pena admired the way Hyderabad FC have shaped themselves up in the last three years, and called for his team to be at their highest quality to come away with a win.

“They are, for me, the most consistent team in the league. They have been playing almost together, most of the players for three years with the same coach. They are a team that, even without the ball, they look like a team, they know how they play, they know each other extremely well,” he mentioned.

“On Thursday, we must be ourselves. We must be FC Goa more than ever, playing with our identity, as we did in the game in Hyderabad. We were very close to getting at least one point. And on Thursday, we will be competitive again. It's not going to be easy, of course, we’ll fight for the three points until the end,” the head coach added.

On being questioned whether he will tweak his starting eleven according to the strengths of the opponent, Pena maintained his stance of having a quality squad that can be altered with respect to the different types of games.

“I don't really have a starting eleven. I want to take advantage of all the players in my squad. I also know that we have young players in the squad that need to be used if you want to build your (the club’s) future. You need to use them in important moments, not only five, seven, ten minutes every day,” he said.

“As a coach, my idea is not thinking about an ideal starting eleven. I'm happy with my players, I think we have a very good starting squad, we have players that can be used, depending on the games, and I work with this idea,” he concluded.