There’s lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there’s the sound byte.
In the post-match press conference, both Roberto Carlos of Delhi Dynamos and Cesar Farias of Northeast United expressed satisfaction with the draw. Carlos laughed away questions of his team scoring only six goals in seven games, stressing that they are near the top of the table. Farias pointed out that his team had earned its first point in an away game. Even the stats are somewhat even. Possession was 50-50. Delhi had two more shots on target, Northeast had six more shots off target.
Yet this was Northeast’s game to win. Farias cannot but worry that his team can play this well and still earn only a point. Doubtless, Carlos will be relieved to walk away with a point.
The omens were there for the hosts even before the kick-off, which was delayed. Only half the floodlights of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi were on, due to a transformer bust-up. When the lights came on, they were on the visitors’ side. The sound was on their side, too – their supporters were noisier. And they had the early momentum.
They got off to a screeching start. There was urgency in their running, they committed forward in numbers. Their first moment came in the third minute when winger Sanju Pradhan shot wide from just outside the box. In the sixth minute, Florent Malouda made a swift run on left, but his cross did not find Robin Singh.
A minute later, Northeast’s left winger Seityasen Singh got free of Delhi’s makeshift right full-back Sehnaj Singh, sending in a great cross that found Francis Dadzie’s head. Northeast won its first corner in the next minute itself. Sanju floated the ball precisely towards the near post, where Diomancy Kamara freed himself of his markers. His header rattled the crossbar, and the Delhi team looked unsure and rattled itself.
Their left full-back Raju Yumnam centred a dangerous ball in the 10th minute, cleared only by a desperate Carlos lunge. The first 20 minutes belonged to Northeast. They committed forward with pace, skill and numbers; Delhi tried to hit them on the counter. This was the pattern for large portions of the game. Northeast were swift and penetrative in the wide areas of the pitch. Their crosses – they sent in 29 against Delhi’s 13 – were also more accurate.
Delhi’s wide attackers were on the backfoot, initially. Francisco Fernandes started this game on the left of the attack; he has been used more often on the right by Delhi this season. He was busy lending a hand in defence to help his left full-back Adinga Ralte, who was getting tormented by Northeast’s sparkling right winger Sanju and full-back Aiborlang Khongjee.
On Delhi’s right, Richard Gadze was often required to track back deep to lend Sehnaj a hand in dealing with the relentless Seityasen and Raju. Northeast could sustain such pressure and stretch Delhi across their own half because their midfield had the greater control. Both their central midfielders, Andre Bikey and Silas, were mobile in helping the centre-backs deal with Malouda and Robin, and were crucial to their transition from defence to attack.
For all their energy and momentum in attack, Northeast were poor in finishing. It was only a matter of time when their drive would sag. Gadze showed physical strength and speed in the 22nd minute to shake off Raju and run on right. Three minutes later, he produced another attacking run on the flank. The 26th minute saw Francis exhibiting pace on the left. But Delhi’s crossing was poor; there wasn’t much evidence of understanding between striker Robin and the service.
Delhi’s midfield has been strong and composed in their recent games. On Monday, however, that was not the case. Carlos had put himself in for Chicao, who has a leg injury. Chicao is not the fastest or the fittest, but his positioning has been crucial for Delhi, allowing freedom to the other central midfielder, Hans Mulder, who has the legs for the transitions. They have provided the strength for Malouda’s fluid creativity.
Against Northeast, though, Carlos was often found on the wrong side of the ball, especially in the early stages. Northeast’s Kamara and Silas found too much space – all too easily – between the lines. In Delhi’s recent successes, Chicao and Sehnaj have controlled this space in front of the defence. Against Northeast, Sehnaj was moved to the right of the defence, in place of the suspended Souvik Chakraborty.
While Sehnaj did not look out of place, Delhi missed the industry and hustle Souvik provides on the right. Yet it was Sehnaj who provided the first quality cross for Delhi in the 33rd minute, a weighted ball into the box. Robin did well to free himself of his marker. But the angle was too acute, and the header floated wide of the near post. Delhi was back in the game now.
In the 34th minute, Northeast created three good chances in the same move, with Sanju, Dadzie and Kamara all missing narrowly. It was no surprise they were punished. Delhi’s successful move in the 37th minute began with Carlos clearing the ball in front of the Delhi box. He found Francis, who ran and paused, sending Malouda clear in that left channel that the Frenchman owns. Gadze’s run was was intelligent and swift, and his first touch good enough for the bottom right corner.
Northeast had several chances even after they lost their early control – they had seven corners to Delhi’s one, and three of those produced chances. Their best chance of the second half came in the 61st minute. Raju’s showed vision, sending a long pass that surprised the Delhi defence, finding Dadzie onside and clear on goal, with only Delhi’s goalkeeper to beat. Toni Doblas raised his right arm, willing the gods to send the shot wide. Dadzie hit the post.
The penalty/freekick confusion in the 71st minute, after Kamara was brought down, gave Farias the time to substitute Simao for Silas. Simao’s masterly freekick came more as relief for the Northeast than an inevitability. Which was ironic, given the number of chances they created against the meanest defence of this league.
In this match, Farias found an 11 that can rescue their season. But their wastefulness is alarming. Delhi got out of jail in the face of injury and suspension. After the game, Carlos told the press he did not want to change a winning combination. But this match showed Delhi lacks a Plan B. This was Northeast’s game to win. If they have one point instead of three, they have only their poor finishing to blame.
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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2015 17:06:36 IST