NorthEast United FC’s Indian Super League (ISL) season has got off to a dream start with two wins from two matches. After beating Kerala Blasters in the inaugural match of ISL 3, NorthEast United FC beat FC Goa for the first time on Tuesday, and the John Abraham-owned side is already looking a side to watch out for.
NorthEast were confident going into the match against Goa, with new coach Nelo Vinganda making one change to his starting XI from the opening day's victory. Nicolas Velez was on the bench and defensive midfielder Wellington Priori replaced him.
The coach’s idea was to add more steel to the midfield, with more cover for the back four. The Highlanders chose to go with only one out-and-out striker in Emiliano Alfaro. The hero of the opening match, Katsumi Yusa, started the match on the right flank with Halicharan Narzary pushed on the left side.
Contrary to the rather dull opening game, this match got off to an exciting start with some brilliant end-to-end action. Yusa is proving to be a shrewd and excellent buy for the side and once again, he created brilliant opportunities for his team. He won an early free kick and earned his team the first sniff of goal in the 12th minute.
In the 20th minute, NorthEast got their lead in a rather bizarre fashion. Goa defender Lucio won an aerial duel with Alfaro and passed the ball back to goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani who took too many touches as he was being hounded by
Kattimani made a pass that hit the onrushing Alfaro’s knee and got deflected into the goal.
It was a howler by the Goa keeper, who just had to pass the ball to one of his teammates, or just kick it long. Instead, he got pressurised and couldn’t take the correct decision. NorthEast got their goal with some luck, but credit should go to Alfaro for keeping up the pressure on the Goa keeper.
Goa knit some quick passes and tried to equalise, but when in the 62nd minute, Alfaro scored NorthEast's second goal, the Highlanders were ensured three points.
Starting the match without last season’s top scorer Nico Velez, NorthEast still managed to score two goals and win, which is good news for the side, as it means the team would not have to rely on one player for goals. If they can have three or four players sharing the burden of getting the goals, they will find the task of crossing the league stage for the first time much easier.
What also helps is that ‘Professor’ Vingada has evidently tightened the screws at the back. In both the matches, NorthEast have defended obstinately. Kerala were poor and didn’t attack as much, but Goa offered more in that department. Still the NorthEast defence managed to stand tall.
Subrata Paul is proving to be another great signing for the club. Considering the side already had the services of TP Rehnesh, it seemed odd that the management went ahead and signed another goalkeeper. Arjuna award winner Paul is massively experienced, and while his signing looked ideal for that reason, there were doubts if he would be able to perform as well as he used to when he was younger.
However, Paul has has brilliant, clearing doubts over his abiities. Ten minutes into the second half, he pulled off a blinder of a save when he thwarted a long-range effort from Trinidad Goncalves. Just a few moments later, he was brought into the act again and managed to save Mandar Rao Desai’s shot from inside the box and Trinidad’s follow-up as well.
With the 2-0 win, NorthEast handed FC Goa what was just their fifth away loss in the history of the ISL. Granted, Kattimani’s poor goalkeeping helped, but credit has to be given to NorthEast for their win.
Yusa and Paul have both shown their worth, but perhaps Vingada is the best signing for NorthEast. The coach’s tactics, his managerial style and his transfer business cannot be understated. It’s been a busy first week for the Highlanders, and their third match comes in just a couple of days’ time. It will be their first away match as they face Mumbai City FC at the Andheri Sports Complex. It is already the best start for the side in the ISL, but if NorthEast can get another win, it will be an incredible start to the season, and their title prospects will brighten significantly.