NorthEast United need a point against Kerala Blasters…
Khalid Jamil is a man of few words. But his actions have made the necessary impact after taking over the reins from Gerard Nus at NorthEast United.
The Highlanders, who were winless in six matches when they brought in the Indian coach after parting ways with Nus, have turned their season around. The Guwahati-based club is now unbeaten in eight games, which includes five wins and three draws.
The playoff race also has seen twists and turns and with NorthEast registering a 2-1 win against East Bengal on Tuesday, they are now only a point away from booking a place in the playoffs for only the second time in its history. The win has taken their tally to 30 points and they now require a point against Kerala Blasters to seal their spot in the semi-final.
East Bengal’s attack, led by striker Jeje Lalpekhlua who started his fourth match of the season, didn’t threaten the NorthEast defence enough to cause them any issues. The Highlanders managed to create chances to score but it was the second-half that turned out to be action-packed.
VP Suhair, who has been deployed down the right flank all season. once again proved to be effective in the final third. The former Gokulam Kerala striker drifted inside from the flank, collected Imran Khan’s pass and slammed home the opening goal. The Red and Golds’ three-man defence featuring Scott Neville, Raju Gaikwad and Sarthak Golui was stretched quite often and they paid the price.
There was end-to-end football on display but a bit of poor defending from Sarthak gifted the Highlanders their second goal minutes later. Nim Dorjee’s cross into the box was sliced into his own net by the Indian defender after his attempt to clear the ball first-time went wrong.
Sarthak then went on to do what every defender who scores an own goal usually does. He headed home Surchandra Singh’s free-kick from the left flank three minutes before the end of 90 minutes but NorthEast United, who are firmly in the race for the playoffs, were vigilant enough to prevent a late comeback.
East Bengal deserves credit for their late fightback, especially after Gaikwad picked up a second yellow card and the team was reduced to 10-men. The Highlanders survived the late onslaught but Robbie Fowler’s team just didn’t have enough quality to mount a comeback. They had been struggling even with the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Bright Enobakhare starting games and so on Tuesday, without those key players, their overall quality dropped even further.
Assistant coach Tony Grant laid bare his thoughts on the game after the full-time whistle and said, “We tried young players, we had Jeje (Lalpekhlua) upfront and none of them had enough (quality), they never had enough. So recruitment is always key and these are the players we have had all season and this is the best they have looked. We weren’t ready early in the season, now they had a chance and they had to show us but they couldn’t show us (what they got).”
East Bengal’s lack of quality on the day helped NorthEast United and they’ll take it. They delivered a spirited performance to keep the unbeaten run and their play-off hopes well and truly alive.