NorthEast United need a point against Kerala Blasters …
Khalid Jamil is a very talkative person. But his actions have had the necessary impact after taking over control of Gerard Nus at NorthEast United.
The Highlanders, who were winless in six matches when they brought in the India coach after parting ways with Nus, have turned their season around. The Guwahati-based club are now unbeaten in eight matches, which include five wins and three draws.
The playoff race has also seen twists and turns and with NorthEast recording a 2-1 win against East Bengal on Tuesday, they are now just one point away from booking a playoff place for only the second time in its history. The win brings their tally to 30 points and they now need a point against Kerala Blasters to secure their place in the semifinals.
The East Bengal attack, led by striker Jeje Lalpekhlua starting his fourth match of the season, did not threaten the Northeast defense enough to get them into trouble. The Highlanders managed to create chances to score but it was the second half that turned out to be full of action.
VP Suhair, who was stationed on the right wing all season. once again proved effective in the final third. The former Gokulam Kerala striker came on from the wing, took Imran Khan’s pass and scored the opener. The three-man Red and Gold defense featuring Scott Neville, Raju Gaikwad and Sarthak Golui stretched quite often and they paid the price.
There was end-to-end football on display but a bit of poor defense from Sarthak rewarded the Highlanders minutes later. Nim Dorjee’s cross into the box was sliced into the net by the Indian defender after his first attempt to clear the ball failed.
Sarthak then went on to do what every defender who scores an own goal usually does. He headed in Surchandra Singh’s free kick from the left flank three minutes before the end of the 90 minutes but NorthEast United, strong in the race for the playoffs, were alert enough to prevent a late comeback.
East Bengal deserves credit for their counter-attack, especially after Gaikwad received a second yellow card and the team was reduced to 10 men. The Highlanders survived the surprise attack but Robbie Fowler’s team lacked enough quality to bounce back. They have struggled even with the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Bright Enobakhare starting the match and on Tuesday, without the key player, their overall quality dropped even further.
Assistant coach Tony Grant expressed his thoughts on the game after the full-time whistle and said, “We tried young players, we had Jeje (Lalpekhlua) up front and nobody had enough (quality), they were never enough. So recruitment was always key and these are the players we have all season and this is the best they have seen. We were not ready at the start of the season, now they have opportunities and they have to show us but they can’t show us (what they got). “
East Bengal’s lack of quality on that day helped NorthEast United and they will accept it. They put on a passionate performance to keep their unbeaten streak and their play-off hopes well and truly alive.