Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham was happy with his side's performance despite their 1-0 defeat to East Bengal FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the Mumbai Football Arena, in Mumbai, on Sunday.

Chances were flying at both ends of the pitch right from the very beginning with the home side dominating possession. The Islanders continuously bombarded the East Bengal FC defence but couldn’t find the back of the net as the first half ended all square. To everyone’s surprise, Naorem Mahesh Singh scored in the 52nd minute after receiving a Cleiton Silva pass inside the box. The winger made room for himself before firing a powerful shot that swerved past the Islanders' keeper Phurba Lachenpa. MCFC enhanced their attacking option but the Torch Bearers fought toe-to-toe to hold onto that one-goal lead.

The victory meant East Bengal FC have now attained their highest-ever points tally in the Hero ISL with six wins and one draw from 19 games. The Islanders ended their league stage as the League Winners but will be heading to the semi-finals on the back of successive defeats.

Des Buckinham's men suffered their first defeat to East Bengal FC in Hero ISL history, which was also their maiden defeat at home this season. The Islanders were also beaten by the Torch Bearers in the Durand Cup earlier this season. Buckingham felt they were beaten because he fielded a young, inexperienced side on both occasions and said the recent defeats didn’t have much of an effect on their campaign.

“I think the two times we played them in very similar circumstances. When we played in the Durand Cup, we left a lot of players because they were on bookings and that could've carried through to the knockout stages. We played (Gursimrat) Gill and Vinit (Rai) at center-back in that game,” Buckingham said in the post-match press conference.

“The same was tonight, we didn't want to risk anyone who was on yellow cards and didn't want to risk anyone with a slight knock,” he added.

Buckingham made four changes to his side that lost to Bengaluru FC in the previous game and handed debuts to a lot of youngsters. The Englishman affirmed that he used this game as an opportunity to test out other players who waited so long to come onto the pitch.

“Tonight we use this as an opportunity to look at a lot of players. I'm delighted with the young players who made their debuts,” the head coach stated.

“We used this as a chance to test them and see what they could do, and I think they’ve passed the flying colours in terms of how they've adapted and shown what they can do. (I) was also making sure that we look after our squad and make sure we arrive at the semifinals with everybody available and now we will,” he added.

After a record 18-game unbeaten streak, the Islanders have now suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since March 2022. However, Buckingham assured these losses won’t have much impact on their campaign as it was also necessary to try out his bench strength.

“We used tonight for a different purpose. We knew we won the league and we're going to finish at least four points clear. We need to test and try things because we may need them in the semifinals,” Buckingham said.

The League Shield winners will now go on a long break and will be back in action at the Mumbai Football Arena for the 1st leg of the semi-final on the March 7th, 2023. Buckingham believes this gap will not break their momentum as they’ve already gone through this sort of situation previously.

“We do what we've done in between in the last couple of campaigns,” he said.

“So players will have five days off from Monday to Friday. We rest, recover, and recuperate. When they do report back they (will) come back in a lot better condition, and we'll still have 10 days, if not 12, to work towards the semi-finals,” Buckingham concluded.