After securing the 2022-23 ISL League Winners' Shield, Mumbai City FC are ready for the playoffs. The Islanders will play the first of two legs of the Hero ISL semi-final on March 7, 2023 against Bengaluru FC at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Looking ahead at the semi-finals, Head Coach Des Buckingham spoke about how the squad is gearing up a knockout clash after they finished top of the table at the end of the Hero ISL League Stage. “We don't really talk about it being a semi-final. We don't talk about pressure or confidence. We just concentrate on our performance. We went on to win the league without losing a game. But we talked about our own performances and we've got a way that we work. We've got internal performance measures that we try and meet every game and how we can, if we can deliver on those measures as often as possible, we hope the results will follow. That is certainly what has started to show. It's just reflecting back now on the 20 games, looking at what has gone well and making sure that we continue, trying to prepare ourselves as well as we can for the next game because we've shown already in the 20 now if we can do that then we'll put ourselves in the best position to go and secure the double.”
After securing the ISL League Winners' Shield, Buckingham went on to talk about the hunger he and his Islanders' squad have to go and win the ISL Final. "There are people who play a lot in their careers and maybe don't win anything in terms of silverware. So, for us to be able to do that while still being able to chase more, you know, there's still a lot more that we want to achieve this year and winning the Shield is a good start. It's certainly not something we're going to sit on and try to be happy with. We can be happy with what we've achieved but we've got some excitement about what is directly in front of us now. We are very much looking forward to the playoff games. We made some decisions in the last games to rest players that were on cards and also potential injuries, whilst also giving a lot of our young players an opportunity to showcase their skills and the hunger each member of this squad has to go and win each game. “The good thing is we now have everybody available from our squad for that semi-final which is very important to us especially since how important our squad has been for us this year.””
Buckingham also spoke about how tough the games will be during the highly anticipated semi-final of the tournament and the squad's preparations for the games ahead as he said, “I think season form sometimes can go out of the window during the play-offs phase. Regardless of the team that we play, we've shown already this season that against any of those teams we can perform and play well and if you can do that against them in the semi-finals and hold yourself to the measures that we try to you put upon ourselves, we will place our team in the best position that you can to go and hopefully get the result. You never know in the game, but we'll prepare as well as we can. We have had a good two weeks now where we can sit and watch and see what happens and prepare ourselves as well as we can for those games.”
The 38-year-old concluded by talking about the support the Islanders’ fans have shown throughout the season at the Mumbai Football Arena. “After the Shield celebrations and with the knockouts coming up, personally, I want to thank the fans for their support. That Shield was, of course, for them as they've not been able to be in a stadium for over 2 years. So, to be able to come back in the first season and see their team lift the Shield in front of them was a very special moment to share with them."
He added, "I keep talking about this and it's not comparing us to other clubs, but I think when you come to the Mumbai Football Arena, the atmosphere that is created by our fans and then the away fans that do come, I think is different. They're a lot closer to the pitch. The stadium itself we know it's not the biggest and we know we don't have the biggest fanbase. Yet, the noise and the atmosphere within the stadium during the games, because of how close you are to the pitch and because of the stadium, allows the noise to spill onto the pitch. I think that closeness and that connection with the players and with the staff, it's pretty special and I think the away teams feel that as well and I'd like to think of a way for fans that come to us and to get a chance to experience that as well. So certainly, I've really enjoyed all of the games we've had at home, the support they've given me personally, but more importantly the Team and I'm hopeful that, you know, we'll see them again on the 7th of March and we'll try and do as much as we can to give them something else to cheer for.”
Mumbai City Media Release