North-East United FCOn a pleasant Friday night, Guwahati boys came to Mumbai and went away as conquerors, leaving Mumbai shell-shocked. The way Mumbai City FC played in the first half; the 2-0 win for the North-East United was the least fathomable result. But the visitors showed their true skills in the second half and scored both goals in the last 40 minutes against the home side, which was reduced to nine men in the last 15 minutes of the match. After Mumbai’s 5-0 drubbing of Pune City FC last Saturday, the capacity Diwali crowd at Nerul’s DY Patil stadium did not expect their team to succumb to NEUFC, especially since Mumbai looked a much better team in the first half. But one has to accept the vagaries of football and the role that luck can play at times. The two second half goals; one each from Kondwani Mtonga and Felipe de Castro propelled NEUFC to the second place in the league table while Mumbai City FC slipped to fourth. It was also NorthEast United’s first away win in the tournament, which saw the scoring of the 25th goal of the Indian Super League.

The match began with both sides fighting for ball possession but it was Mumbai, who assumed control in the beginning. The home side began launching the attack on the NEUFC goal. In the 13th minute, when Nadong Bhutia took the ball in mid-field, he was striking close to the goal-mouth but rather than shooting himself, he sent a back pass looking for either Subhash Singh or Andre Moritz. But before any of the two Mumbai forwards could get to it, the ball was cleared out of harm’s way by a NEUFC defender. The visitors also had a golden chance in the 17th minute as Koke played the ball for Felipe de Castro, who smartly shifted his weight to take a left-footed strike to the goal. Unluckily for de Castro, the ball flew wide off the far post. After these two early chances for both sides, Mumbai kept NEUFC completely in check and dominated the proceedings in the remaining time of the first half. Unfortunately, the ball control could not be fructified into goals with NEUFC defense thwarting most of Mumbai’s goal-scoring maneuvers.

In the second half, Mumbai introduced their marquee player Freddie Ljungberg, who replaced Moritz. But Moritz’s absence was felt immediately as NEUFC began to raid the Mumbai half. In one of the possible chances, Durga Boro shot at the goal in the 46th minute, but his volley from about 30 yards sailed over the horizontal bar. In the 57th minute, however, North East United made a great move, when Koke smartly sent the ball in the penalty box, where Mtonga was ready. He fought with Tiago Ribeiro and as the goalkeeper appeared to move up, lobbed the ball delicately over his head to put NEUFC ahead 1-0. Mtonga’s strike also brought the tournament goal tally to 25. In the 71st minute Mumbai lost Marquee player Ljungberg, who fell down with a thigh injury. With all substitution chances used up, the home team couldn’t send a replacement and had to play with only 10 men in the field. With NEUFC keeping the ball in the Mumbai half for most part, an impatient Pavel Cmoves indulged in an altogether avoidable tackle and brought down James Keene. The referee decided that Pavel’s challenge was too rash and he showed the red card to the Mumbai player. This reduced Mumbai’s field strength to just 9 players. NEUFC took the fullest advantage of the reduced strength and mounted several attacks. Two minutes into the injury time, James Keene passed the ball to Felipe de Castro, who didn’t find it too difficult to deposit the ball into the top corner to win the match for NEUFC by a margin of 2-0.

In their next games, Mumbai City FC will face Chennaiyin FC on Oct 28 while NorthEast United will travel to Delhi to take on Delhi Dynamos on October 29.