The North-East United FC are just one win away from gatecrashing into the semifinals of 2016 Indian Super League. On November 30, they defeated visitors Delhi Dynamos 2-1 to take their points’ tally to 18. The Highlanders had the support of 21000 spectators at Guwahati and they didn’t disappoint them. Now they travel to Kochi on December 4 for their last league game against Kerala Blasters FC. Both KB and NEUFC have their chances but while the Blasters just need a draw, NEUFC are in a must-win situation.
On Wednesday, NorthEast United FC derived the advantage of a nearly complacent Delhi Dynamos, who couldn’t match the hosts on several counts. Delhi were already in the semifinals and that could be one reason for not playing with the usual aplomb. Secondly, DD allowed their defense to become too unsynchronized in the second half. However, as the match began, it was Delhi, who made the first attack in the 3rd minute of the match. It was a big opportunity since Richard Gadze had only the goalkeeper to beat after he received a beautiful pass from Florent Malouda. But Gadze shot wide to a huge relief of NorthEast fans. Even after that straight miss, Delhi continued to have the higher percentage of ball possession but failed to come up with any genuine chances. NorthEast got into the groove in 18th minute, when Emiliano Alfaro was in great position after running with the ball and shooting on the goal. But Delhi goalkeeper Antonio Doblas cleared the ball away. From that point onwards, NEUFC began playing far better football. Delhi had another chance in 35th minute, when Gadze was fed a long ball. Even as Gadze moved into the penalty box after taking the high ball on his chest, the NEUFC goalkeeper TP Rehenesh was as alert as ever and he pounced on the ball to clear the danger. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, the proceedings were end-to-end and the two teams went for break at 0-0.
The start of the second-half wasn’t spectacular, but in 60th minute, NEUFC’s Seityasen Singh received a long ball from Didier Zokora and controlled it marvelously. Seityasen went past Delhi’s Souvik Chakraborty into the penalty box before shooting through from a tight angle. That goal sent Guwahati’s Nehru stadium into a huge frenzy. NorthEast got another chance 9 minutes later but their Ivory Coast recruit Romaric’s deflected attempt went wide. In the 71st minute, however, NorthEast finally doubled their lead with a superb effort from Romaric. After receiving a great pass from Robert Cullen, Romaric saw Delhi goalkeeper Antonio Doblas rushing up but the Ivorian made a neat finish in notching up a 2-0 lead for his team. By this time, Delhi had begun committing too many defensive errors and their game was falling apart. However in the 3rd minute of added time, Delhi pulled one back through Marcelinho, who beat Rehenesh with an angled shot. It was the ninth goal for the Brazilian in this year’s ISL.
The match ended 2-1 in NorthEast’s favor and that makes their last league fixture against Kerala Blasters FC extremely crucial. NEUFC have 18 points in the standings compared to KB’s 19. That simply translates to a must-win last game for the Highlanders. For Kerala Blasters, a mere draw will be enough. Though KB will have the home advantage at Kochi, NEUFC are not likely to give the game on the platter to KB after having come this far.